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China and its Water Crisis

Updated on January 14, 2016
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James September is a licensed teacher and freelance writer. He obtained his Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language in 2012.

The Chinese emperors thought that having control over sources of water and the water was one an appropriate way of ensuring control over the country. The emperors made heavy investment in projects closely linked to water. Such ventures included ventures like the Grand Canal bridging the city of Hangzhou and Beijing. The canal is now important in one of the largest engineering projects undertaken in the world. The project ended as early as 500 AD, and the communist leaders of China take to this passion of being protective over water. Out of nine members on the Politburo’s committee, eight of the nine them were engineers. On the hand, Hu Jintao, who is a retired Chinese president, is also a water engineer.

Water shortage in China is worse because of the disappearance of Water in China. Six decades ago, China had about 50000 rivers and catchment areas that formed approximately one hundred square kilometers. Currently, the number of rivers stands at 23000, which is less than half of what the country had 60 years. There is a loss of 27000 rivers due to of the establishment of factories and over-exploitation by farmers in the agricultural sector. Given the profitability of the agricultural sector, many Chinese people make a huge investment in the sector. There is also a need to promote the sector to supplement the imported sources of food for a huge population. Irrigation schemes setup in various locations in every region of the country contributes to the over-exploitation. According to a statement from Jiang Liping, who is a senior specialist in the irrigation sector, China over-exploits is sources of underground water by approximately 22.5 billion cubic meters in one year. The per capita consumption of water in China is less than a third of what the whole world utilizes on average.

China has a severe water crisis in terms of water shortage. There is a scarcity in most of the water resources, and the problem is getting worse because of the rapid economic growth in the country. The economy is currently consuming too much water than the natural environment can pump back into the water sources. China has many capital projects such as roads, dams, bridges, sky-scrappers, residential areas, and other premises. The projects require much input of water from the onset of construction to the end of construction. The projects take blame for a larger portion of the degradation on the environment (Figuères, Rockström, & Tortajada, 2003, p. 3). Attempts in the area of dam construction aim at improving the availability of water of water in the country. According to the United Nations International Children and Education Fund (UNICEF) report in 2012, and the World Health Organization annual report, 593 million people in China have access to improved sanitation for the last 20 years.

However, the country still faces significant water supply deficit. Internal rural-urban migration within the country implies that many people move from the rural areas to join the middle class in urban centers. Their consumption of water in the urban area increases after the move to urban areas. Urbanization comes with the use of showers, toilets, and washing machines that lead to higher consumption of water. The intake of nondurable goods like goods, meat, electronics, and clothing garments, increases the use of water because their production depends on water. According to data obtained from the Chinese Ministry of Water and Water resources in 2008, industry accounted for 24 percent of the total consumption; agriculture took 62 percent, and domestic accounted for 12 percent while replenishment finished off the demand list at 2 percent.

The first challenge posed towards resolving the water problem in China is the logistics of the country. More than 58 percent of the sources of water in China are in the Southern region of the country. However, a large percentage of the consumption of water happens in the northern part of the country. Consequently, the ministry has to incur huge costs in supplying water from the southern region towards the northern side where most of the consumers reside. In addition, China derives nearly 44 percent of its Gross Domestic Product form provinces with the highest level of water scarcity. The implication is that most residents will have to do with inadequate and scarce water in the provinces because economic production takes priority (Xie & World Bank, 2009, p.4). It is hard for the country to develop its economy in the circumstances where the geographical and water resource issues are beyond the control of the authorities.

China has a very large population. The population goes beyond the one billion mark. The high demographic figures imply that there is natural high consumption by the local population compared to other countries. Water consumption caters for the basic human consumption and the industrial use. The resources stretch beyond their capacity leading to a shortage of water in many parts of the country. Stretching the water resources imposes bigger costs for China. The government wanted a revolution through shale-gas. The undertaking is difficult because of inadequate water since the gas reserves are in the country’s driest parts. According to the World Bank, the country’s water shortage problems are approximately 2.3 percent of the gross domestic product every year. Most of these problems relate to health conditions among the population due to the consumption of dirty water.

The weather pattern in China also causes another problem in terms of water shortage. The country has a variety of climatic zones and terrains. The landscape affects rainfall such the Eastern, and the Southern parts receive abundant rainfall while the western and northern regions receive little rainfall. Since water is the primary source of water, the country has to redistribute the little available sources of water all over the country. The weather patterns result in contradicting results for the Chinese population. Some of the provinces in the East and South may battle with frequent incidences of floods while the Northern and western side may be dealing with the consequences of drought in the country.

The water problem in China is both artificial and natural. The northern and western regions are arid due to naturally climatic patterns and geographic morphology. However, human activities make the problems even worse. Research indicates that most of the problems associated with climate change result from human activities. For instance, greenhouse emissions take the blame for the high temperatures in the western and northern region of the country. The temperatures make rivers dry up due to high levels of evaporation and overconsumption by the ever-growing population of the Chinese population. In a country where the government prioritizes the creation of jobs and economic development, it is easy to ignore factors like water conservation.

The Chinese government ventures into various projects to address the water problem in China. The largest and most ambitious dam by the Chinese government ended in 2006. The Three Gorges Dam is a reservoir that extends nearly 600 kilometers. It raises the water level in the region of Yangtze making underground water easily accessible by prospective drillers. The government spent approximately 25 billion dollars in the completion of the project (Bellier, Zhou, World Bank, & International Finance Corporation, 2003, p.6). The construction of such dams is a possible solution to address the water crisis in this large country.

It is also important of the Chinese government to consider afforestation measures in the Northern and Western parts of the country. Forests form an important and natural part of water catchment areas that encourage the formation of rainfall. There are other subsequent effects of developing forests. They help to hold water closer to the ground hence improving the availability of groundwater within huge geographical locations. For cities that rely on groundwater like Beijing, afforestation of the adjacent location will help to improve the availability of water in the city (Bellier, Zhou, World Bank, & International Finance Corporation, 2003, p. 6). \

The government could also encourage the exploration of alternative sources of energy. China relies on coal as one of its major sources of energy. Coal requires much water to process and convert into the desired end product by the consumer. Instead of relying on such water consuming sources, the government could investment in Hydroelectric Power. It produces energy from water although the process does not consume much water. It also encourages construction of dams.


Bellier, M., Zhou, Y. M., World Bank. & International Finance Corporation. (2003). Private participation in infrastructure in China: Issues and recommendations for the road, water, and power sectors. Washington, D.C: World Bank.

Figuères, C., Rockström, J., & Tortajada, C. (2003). Rethinking water management: Innovative approaches to contemporary issues. London: Earth Scan Publications.

Xie, J., & World Bank. (2009). Addressing China's water scarcity: Recommendations for selected water resource management issues. Washington, D.C: World Bank.

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