Northern China’s Water Storage and its Unethical Solution; the South to North Water Transfer Project
As of 2013, Beijing has an annual water consumption rate of 3.6 billion cubic meters, far more than the 2.1 billion cubic meters that is locally available. Such a rate of consumption is far from a new issue for the capital of Beijing, and collectively the Northern Region of China. In fact, the per capital annual water rate is around 120 cubic meters, a level well below the United Nations water scarcity threshold. This is not to be taken likely by any means, especially taking into consideration the region’s dry climate. These statistics put China’s capital and northern region in a position of having a more severe water scarcity than some countries in the Middle East. To put this issue into a more alarming perspective, a direct quote taken by the United Nations International Decade for Action “Water for Life” 2005- 20015 stated,
Hydrologists typically assess scarcity by looking at the population-water equation. An area is experiencing water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m3 per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 m3 per person, the population faces water scarcity, and below 500 cubic meters “absolute scarcity”. (UN 2014)
Water scarcity is one of this capital’s and northern China’s greatest challenges, and without a solution this issue, disaster is inevitable.
Research on Beijing’s water crisis, and its social prospective is crucial to commencing the wheel of solution that this region is in dire need of. Especially, if we are looking at city who has a projected water capacity of 12 million people, and is currently supporting almost 20 million. There is no other option besides change. To fully understand how to fix this issue sustainable development should be one of its major goals. If the government and its people were to take into consideration the potential, rights, and responsibility of its population, human dignity could be achieved. The construction of this human dignity can be separated into three major sectors of the economic, social, and environmental characteristics. With these characteristics, human dignity, and with time equity towards its population’s water usage, Northern China would hold the key to opening the door of sustainable development; in this case, it’s water supply.
Northern China is currently trying to compensate for this lack of water through a project known as the South- North Transfer Project (南水北调工程). This is a multi- decade project anticipated to reroute 44.8 billion cubic meters of water annually from the Yangtze River to the Yellow River and Hai River. Its central route, which is the focus of this paper, is from the upper reaches of the Han River to Beijing and Tianjin. The intentions of this project are simple, to provide an improvement of water resources in Northern China. However, it’s environmental and social costs are far more complex. With the construction of this diversion project, industrialization zones have been built along its path. This poses a serious source of water contamination that is being diverted to the north, causing individuals to decrease their water consumption to eliminate the risk of personal contamination. Contamination on this level has occurred through chemical drainage of factories built along this diversion project. With such industrial effluent, there are numerous factors that lead to negative effects on human health. These components include petrochemicals and chlorinated solvents. Petrochemicals occur through underground petroleum storage, while chlorinated solvents generally are derived from metal production, electronic, and aircraft manufacturing. Contamination also occurs in indirect level as well. Since agriculture accounts for 68% of China’s water that is taken from ground water sources such as lakes or rivers, any contamination of this resource would cause a lower yield in both agriculture and the livestock raised by farmers. Having these lower yields, as seen today across areas of Northern China near this project, economic prosperity has suffered. Their living standards have depleted. Without access to clean water, economic activities have been put on hold cause those who inhabit these provinces to live in constant poverty.
Through an environmental scope of a solution to such an issue is sustainable development, The individual’s responsible for the planning and implementation of this project should be held responsible for having the least amount of negative impact on the natural environment. As for a social perspective, we are looking at a respect for each individual and family that deserves an equal chance for clean water. Clean water is a basic necessity for sustainable development, and more simply a better way of life. As for the other negatives associated with this project, has to do with its implications. Since the start of this project, hundreds of thousands of people has had to resettle to make room for its construction. This can be seen in the Hubei and Henan provinces, where almost 350,000 people were resettled to areas nearby the Danjiangkou Reservoir. As stated by the Worldwide Wildlife Fund,
Though supported by both Chinese analysts and the World Bank, the project is nevertheless very costly; it involves the resettlement of up to 300,000 people; deprives the Han sub-basin of water supplies; and has complex environmental implications. Some dissident voices have thus come out against the project, concluding that management and efﬁciency improvements alonewould be adequate (WWF, 2001)
These individuals have faced a dilemma that has caused a copious amount of individuals to suffer a loss of their livelihoods. Not only did the individuals of the Hubei and Henan provinces lose their property, they lost their identity.
To understand the need for this project, one must look at it in a perspective of more than just providing water to a growing population. Instead, a historical perspective is crucial to understanding China’s demand for the need to manipulate the environment for its own benefit. This aspiration began in the eighteen and nineteenth after the traditional empire. During this period, a long-term trend of exploitation of the environment began, specifically due to the spike in population and need for development. Development of this nature brought on this was when cultivation of maize, sweet potatoes and other cash crops that began to overtake China’s landmasses, causing most of the country to take initiative in clearing our landmasses for agriculture. In their perspective, growth was key to their success as a nation. However, what caused the most damage to its environment was the irrigation systems that began to be implemented, especially in the dry climate of the North. To this day, we continue this trend of hydraulic systems to a climate that is not meant to support large masses of agriculture. Through an economic perspective there is no economic viable solution to improving this situation without degrading the natural ecology of China, or in this case Northern China. And to add to this point, we must not forget that other most important factor that controls the environment, the social structure of power during the development of progress. This can be related to the South to North Water Transfer project, where three factors should have been considered before its implementation to create a scenery of sustainable development that is constructed from economic, social, and environment implications.
Within these three pillars behind sustainable development is the moral of respect for the ecology of this China’s Northern region. For our survival as a human race we use water for our benefit and energy. Water in a global sense is giving us a service. In fact, the biosphere not only provides us with water, but it also cleans our water. However, this service occurs at a much slower rate than we are consuming and contaminating. This is where the theory of sustainable development comes into play. The three spheres of this theory, economic, social, and environment pillars are need to sustain our environment. Humans must not forget the limit of the world we live in, and thus water should be cherished not exploited.
Berkoff, Jeremy. “China: The South–North Water Transfer Project— is it justiﬁed?.” (2003): n.page. Web. 3 Mar. 2014.
Matthews, Nathanial. “China’s water crisis needs better farming, not the South-North Water Transfer.”Chinadialogue. N.p., 06 Jan 2003. Web. 3 Mar 2014.
WWF. (2001). The Proposed South North Water Transfer Scheme in China; Need, Justiﬁcation and Cost. Draft Report. World Wildlife Fund, Beijing