China’s Water Woes

June 16, 2010

A man or woman can survive for weeks without food but only days without water. Knowing that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Tibet will stay in China for some time and water is the reason.

The Yellow River and Yangtze start in Tibet serving more than a third of China’s population. It’s possible that Mao realized the importance of water from Tibet when he sent 40,000 PRC troops into Tibet to reoccupy the former troublesome province/tributary that at the British Empire’s urging broke from China in 1913.

Tibet has an area of about 1.3 million square kilometers (about 5 million square miles) and it is estimated that there are less than 3 million people living in Tibet. China, on the other hand, serves 1.3 billion people, so who benefits the most from water that starts its journey in Tibet?

Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, said, “At least 500 million people in Asia and 250 million people in China are at risk from declining glacial flows on the Tibetan Plateau.” Source: Circle of Blue Waternews

If Tibet’s water were in the hands of anyone else like a free Tibet that might favor other nations over China, China’s future would be dim at best and dire in a worst-case scenario. As it is, China is one of the earth’s driest areas and the challenge to supply 1.3 billion people with water is a daunting task. In fact, China is in a race with disaster and the finish line will be reached in a few decades.

In 1999, Wen Jiabao, a deputy prime minister, warned of looming water shortages. When he became prime minister, he promised to provide clean water for the people. Today, water and waste pollution is the single most serious issue facing China.

However, China has a large and cumbersome bureaucracy.  Different ministries compete with each other meaning little cooperation, which has led to a growing crisis that must be dealt with for China to avoid the suffering, chaos and anarchy that plagued the nation between 1835 and 1950. See China, The Roots of Madness

While replacing thousands of older, coal-burning power plants with cleaner technologies, building more hydroelectric dams, and constructing nuclear reactors, China is also adding desalinations plants to ease the growing water crises. In 2005, a desalination facility south of Shanghai started producing about 375,000 gallons of fresh water an hour, with a goal to build more plants and produce 250 million gallons of water per day by 2010. Source: Environmental News Network

In fact, to achieve this, China contracted with IDE Technologies in Kadima, Israel to build four new desalination units and the first will go on line near Beijing in 2010. These plants are designed to provide desalinated seawater for a power plant’s steam boilers as well as drinking water for local residents. Source: Water and Wastewater.com

According the Global Water Intelligence and the International Desalination Association, as of June 30, 2008, China was ranked 7th among the top ten desalination countries on the planet and that was before the IDE contract. Source: Water Webster

It doesn’t help China’s growing water shortage when mineral resources and a majority of its arable land exist where water is scarcest. Pollution and dealing with human waste are other challenges. Source: Mongabay.com

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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