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China’s Decade Plan for Water

Praised as a feat of engineering, the Three Gorges Dam is one of many in China in desperate need of repair. Source: Asian Infrastructure

Once a year, a No. 1 central document is issued in Beijing that states the government’s priorities for the next year.  The issues addressed range from economic security, zoology safety and state safety, but for the first time, construction of water resources has also made the list.  According ot Jiao Yong, China’s Vice Minister of Water Resources 40% of China’s rivers are already polluted due to the country’s rapid economic growth, and “Industrialization, urbanization, including ensuring grain and food security, are exerting higher demands on water supplies… while our water use remains crude and wasteful.” He goes on to say that “over 46,000 reservoirs in China need to be rebuilt or reinforced to ensure that surrounding farmlands and communities are safe from flooding and have enough water for irrigation.”  China recently held its first water conservation conference, attendees included President Hu Jintao who called water a “strategic resource” and compared its importance and impact on economic and national security to that of food and oil.  He also outlined six major tasks for the country: “(1) improving irrigation and water conservancy infrastructure, (2) enhancing anti-flood capability, (3) constructing water resource allocation facilities, (4) promoting water ecology protection and governance of the water environment, (5) implementing stringent water resource management systems, and (6) improving water technology”.

China has pledged 4 trillion yuan, roughly $600 billion, to be spent over the next decade, with the stated goals of avoiding a water shortage, with the resulting threat to economic growth, and ensuring safe drinking water.  In addition, there is the recurring problem of droughts in the North and flooding in the South due to excess rain fall and the construction of numerous water transfer projects have been suggested as a way of combating this problem with one costing $60 billion targeted at bringing water to areas around Beijing.  Another large project is the protection of the Three Gorges Dam, an estimated $22.5 billion would be needed fortify it from “geological disasters and pollution” since although it is heralded as a “symbol of engineering prowess”, its 600 kilometers spans geological fault lines and it would be devastating to the reservoir if an earthquake were to occur.

The country also is continuously plagued  by an insufficient water supply with only 10 of 663 cities not suffering from water shortages and despite China’s growing economy their per capita water availability falls very short, at 28%, of the global average.  It has been reported that the price of water will be raised as well since current prices are not properly indicative of its scarcity.

At the request of Beijing, it is expected that local governments will spend 10% of their revenue from land sales on water projects.  Although a large proportion of China’s 80,000 reservoirs are in need of repair, an article in ChinaStakes claims that the facts that reservoirs are in the “public domain” and that water is not a very “high profile” issue means that so far local governments have not made them a priority.  In addition, the same article argues that investing in their infrastructure would be a better use of the country’s savings than loaning it out to other countries.

Columbia Water Center demonstrates research-based solutions to global freshwater scarcity and climate-related water risks.  Follow Columbia Water Center on Facebook and Twitter

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D. Whitman
D. Whitman
12 years ago

The World Bank estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation canals in India alone.

India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated more than 10 million people have been displaced by development each year.

Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90–100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.

This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.