Beijing Water

China’s water revival

Chinese citizens and industry are both willing to do their part to help turnaround the country’s water crisis, according to a new survey, but they don’t see how without a mechanism that allows the government, industry and end users to work together. Could that missing mechanism be market discipline, rule of law and citizen empowerment?

Chinese citizens are in no doubt about the country’s water crisis. The Value of Water Index, conducted by US-based global water-technology provider Xylem Inc. and the Beijing-headquartered E20 Environment Platform, shows 96 percent of urban Chinese surveyed for the Index believe the country faces serious water supply issues. It also shows that more than 75 percent of urban residents are willing to pay more for safe water. [See: Growing concern over water quality]

Bloomberg News reports 99 percent of the 2,360 urban Chinese and 159 water-industry “influencers in China” surveyed for the Index, via an online poll, believe urgent action is necessary to address the country’s increasingly urbanized water crisis. Almost nine out of 10 surveyed said more money should be invested to improve access to safer water. [See also: Xylem Value Of Water Index: China reveals strongly held belief that urgent action is required to address local water issues]

The Value of Water Index follows in the wake of a Ministry of Environmental Protection report, released last month, that revealed China’s groundwater supplies are plagued by pollution. The report, which ranked 60 percent of the 4,778 groundwater monitoring sites across the country as “bad” or “very bad”, represents a supply dilemma made worse by the deepening water shortage in 300 of its 657 major cities. [See: China’s groundwater plagued by pollution]

Although the Xylem Index survey revealed awareness about the country’s grave water situation is high, understanding of the issues involved is low, according to the survey: willingness to make changes, however, is not. Survey respondents are ready to conserve, change water-use behaviours and invest more in order to improve water quality in tandem with an industry that  is also ready to embrace change. Reports China Daily:

“The Value of Water Index survey tells us that China’s consumers, industrial associations and companies are all willing to help improve the water conditions; but it also shows they think the country lacks a coordinated mechanism to allow governments, water industry companies and end users to work together to solve the problems,” said Lyu Shuping, president of Xylem China.

The results of the survey reinforce longstanding arguments that technology and lack of public support are not preventing China from making gains on its water woes. [See: Distorted economy dooms China to an “airpocalypse”]

In her address to an international symposium on China’s water crisis, hosted by the Riley Institute at South Carolina’s Furman University in late September, Patricia Adams, the executive director of longtime China monitor, Probe International, points to the root causes of China’s environmental decay that even better technologies will not be able to address; at least, not without a coherent economy governed by rule of law and market discipline. Says Adams:

“The more elegant and effective solutions — and there are many that we know about and many that we haven’t even thought about, such as using markets and laws to properly reflect water scarcity, such as incentivizing Beijing’s residents and entrepreneurs to rehabilitate the watershed and recharge groundwater and aquifers — these are more difficult to craft given the institutional desert that the Communist Party has created.”

The people of China, says Adams, are the key to China’s water revival. She calls on the Chinese government to give power to the people to protect their environment — the right to know, the legal and political tools, and the security to exercise their rights and to hold accountable those who would destroy their environment and reward those whose innovations are sustainable in an economy governed by the rule of law. Both China, and the rest of the world as a result, will thrive, she says. [See: Saving China’s Environment: Give Power to the People]

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