Wetlands latest casualty in China’s water crisis

Eighty per cent of the wetlands around the Haihe river in northern China have been sucked dry by industry and a growing population, Xinhua news agency reported this week, in the latest development of the country's water crisis.

Only 538 sq km remain of wetlands that used to stretch over 3,800 sq km along the reaches of the Haihe, one of China’s three main river valleys, the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources told the Chinese news agency.

The Haihe river system spreads out across the northern region around Beijing, one of the areas of China experiencing severe water shortages due to diminishing water tables and reservoirs. Since the 1950s, China has lost 1000 lakes and 26% of all of its wetlands.

Chinese officials blamed the disappearance of the Haihe wetlands on industrialisation, urbanisation and population growth. The country’s population hit 1.3 billion last year, and is expected to reach 1.6bn in 2030.

“Water resource experts attribute the worrisome environmental changes to overuse of ground water by a growing population and rapid economic development along the river. Damming of the river’s tributaries were also blamed for reducing water supply from nearby lakes to the wetlands,” Xinhua reported.

With China’s per capita water availability at a quarter of the world average and fears about resource overuse mounting, the Chinese government has made “clean water for the people” and energy the priorities of its new five year plan.

As China’s communist government tries to marry economic development with resource security, plans such as water diversion from the Yangtze river, deep mining for water and the large-scale desalination of seawater emerge.

China recently announced it would transform around 50 billion cubic meters of seawater into drinking water each year by 2010. “Experts held that China’s huge demand for water will offer enormous business opportunities for firms centering on desalination as it strives to alleviate water shortages,” Xinhua reported.

At present, 300 million Chinese do not have access to drinkable water, as heavy pollution compounds water scarcity problems. China faces “a water crisis more severe and urgent than any other country in the world,” Qiu Baoxing, vice-minister of construction, said last year.

By Goska Romanowicz

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