China leading the race as drainage basin investment doubles

Global investment in protecting natural water drainage basins has almost doubled in the last four years and China is leading the pack, according to a study.

Produced by US-based NGO Forest Trends’ Ecosystems Marketplace, the study tracked more than 200 drainage basin or watershed investment programmes (IWS) around the world.

Despite the economic downturn, transactions totalled a record $8.1bn (£5m) in 2011.

According to the study’s authors: “Such continued growth in management systems for a natural resource, in the midst of a major global economic downturn, should be raising eyebrows.

“Leaders and communities around the world are recognising water security as a serious problem and taking creative steps to address it.”

The study reveals that “the lion share” of the payments was recorded in China and the super power is expected to invest even more going forward.

Globally, the Chinese push in IWS investment has offset falling investments in ecological infrastructure in North and Latin America, traditionally global leaders in funding watershed protection.

These payments have translated into efforts to rehabilitate and protect nearly 117 million hectares – a total land area nearly the size of South Africa.

The study puts China’s dominance down to its political leadership which has given “eco-compensation” a key role in China’s latest Five-Year Plan and a proposed national land zoning system.

According to the report, water insecurity poses the single biggest risk to the country’s continued economic growth today, and the government has clearly decided that its ecological investments will pay off.

Around the rest of the world interest in IWS is continuing to spread, with 76 new programs in development in countries such as Gabon, Ghana, Bulgaria and Romania.

The US, following a disappointing year for IWS in 2011, was expected to bounce back, with a surge of regulatory drivers behind new growth.

Forest Trends president and CEO Michael Jenkins said: “Whether you need to save water-starved China from economic ruin or protect drinking water for New York City, investing in natural resources is emerging as the most cost-efficient and effective way to secure clean water and recharge our dangerously depleted streams and aquifers.”

“80% of the world is now facing significant threats to water security. We are witnessing the early stages of a global response that could transform the way we value and manage the world’s watersheds.”

Conor McGlone

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie