“All the water that will ever be is right now.” That quote from a 1993 issue of National Geographic is a chilling reminder to many parts of the planet, China included.
Looming water crisis
According to a 2015 United Nations report, the world will have 60% of the water needed in 2030, assuming current public policy and conservation efforts continue with no significant changes. Since China contains only 7% of the world’s freshwater supplies, that prediction is even more fear-inducing.
The impact is already evident. United Nations considers an area is “water-stressed” when the water available to people is 1,700 cubic meters or less. In Beijing the city’s water volume is 150 cubic meters per person. In the vast rural farming areas of China, available water is often less than that.
More than a drinking water issue
Related water issues include water quality control, sewerage and wastewater treatment system networks, pollution control, and ecosystem degradation.
The Chinese government must develop policies that will allocate enough water to ensure agricultural and industrial productivity while protecting both social stability and its own legitimacy to rule.
Without a solution manufacturers with water-intensive practices will leave the country. Farmers unable to tend to their crops and livestock will deplete the resources of China’s breadbasket. That will require Beijing to look beyond its borders for everyday staples. Insufficient water supply could breed public discontent.
Learning from China
The rest of the world will learn much from China as its policy initiatives, technological advances, and infrastructural development serve as a beta-testing site. The government’s ability to apply cutting-edge treatment technology, to enforce environmentally-sound policy, and to clean up its existing water supplies will have ripple effects around the globe.
If China is able to transition toward more advanced “green” processes and capabilities, it stands to lead the global efforts to tackle water scarcity, carving out its niche as a truly “responsible stakeholder” in the worldwide water supply.
Source: China’s water footprint: an example for future policymakers by Lauren Dickey (02/22/17).