State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Water, Water everywhere, nor any drop for China?

Last summer I found myself writing a Water Center Report on China’s massive South-to-North Water transfer project in lieu of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  While the world had its eyes fixed on the struggle between freedom-seeking Tibetans and the Chinese authority, the rumbling of a mammoth water crisis was underway.  The Northern provinces (where Beijing is situated) was suffering from a dust-gathering, land-parching drought.

So what does this have to do with China today? Well, its happening all over again, except now the crushing consequences of last summer’s lack of rain and those of the Olympics (I’m getting there) creates a grim backdrop for the drought’s second coming.

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Going back to the summer, I was having a tough time finding informative articles on China’s plan for the Olympics and creating a “green” not in environmentally-friendly sense, but literally verdant) Beijing despite a severe water crisis.  While 300 million people were suffering without access to clean water and 12,000 sq miles of farmland were transformed into rubble, the Chinese government insisted on presenting the world with a beautiful host city, and that meant lots of water.

Mao’s unfulfilled dream of siphoning South China’s water for the north is the basis of today’s new water project.  Costing more than 60 billion dollars and diverting more than 40 billion gallons of water, the Transfer project pulls water from all the Southern provinces to the Northern, especially Beijing.  In fact, even the neighboring dried and suffering provinces had to pump their remaining ground water into Beijing.  And no one can deny the Olympics were a spectacular affair, especially the Water Cube.  But at what cost?

Today these over-stressed provinces are in their worst condition in history.  The Chinese government has brought in the military to help thwart the drought.  Cloud-seeding chemicals were prepared for rockets which soldiers loaded and fired into the sky over the past month.  Apparently the chemicals induced clouds to briefly open and rain over the most desperate provinces in Northern and Central China.  But this was simply not enough – the clouds were far too sparse and thin to supply significant relief.

In many of these provinces rain has been absent for more than 100 days.  These areas are getting less than 80 percent of the rain than they normally do according to the Flood Control and Drought Relief Office.

You get the picture.  All the stats are up on severity of drought.  While the government is scrambling to fix the situation with more than 12.7 billion dollars allocated for relief, I cannot help but connect last year’s massive water transfer into Beijing to the provinces’ exhausted state today.  Seems like the Beijing Olympics might become famous for more than being spectacular.


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Ju Young Lee
Ju Young Lee
15 years ago

Beyond the issues about economy or politics, China definitely has very interesting (and shocking!) plans and approaches to water resource. The water scarcity in the provinces around Beijing to provide Beijing enough water, the rain-controlling attempt, the massive transfer of water from southern to northern China, etc. I think recently there are so many ongoing studies and researches about China’s water issue. I can’t wait to read their insightful results that can help the entire world to learn more and take care of water resource better.