China, the world’s second largest economy, is facing increasingly severe shortages of fresh water to quench its population as the economy continues to grow. The country has 20 per cent of the world’s population but only 7 per cent of its fresh water supply.
The southern city Kunming is facing such a squeeze that local authorities decided to ration urban consumption for until the summer next year. City residents are urged to cut back on car washes, public bathing and garden-watering. In the north, water tables have been falling because of overuse.
In addition to droughts these past few years, Chinese growth depends on water-intensive industries such as coal washing, textile dyeing or pulp mills and that make up about one-fifth of demand.
Water shortage has become such a concern for authorities that it topped China’s policy agenda this year, with President Hu Jintao saying the problem impacts “China’s economic security, ecological security and national security”. Beijing has also announced an ambitious national aim to halve water consumption per unit of GDP from 2008 levels by 2020. Whether that will actually happen is another question.