Exploring The Water Supply Of China Environmental Sciences

Essay add: 20-10-2016, 11:56   /   Views: 10

Having an area of 9.6 million square kilometres, China is the third largest country in the world. It has 6.5 percent of the total land area of the world. But its population is 1.34 billion which is 19.5 percent of the population of the entire world. Although China's agricultural output is the largest in the world, only about 15 percent of its total land area can be cultivated. It translates to 10 percent of the total arable land in the world. Out of the entire arable land of China, only 37 percent is irrigated. China's population is growing by approximately 10 million people annually. Coupled with this is the fact that the arable land in China is shrinking due to various reasons, one being lack of adequate water for irrigation. It is creating a rising food security concern also.

China has only 7 percent of fresh water of the entire world. The spatial distribution of China's water resources is also uneven. The areas south of Yangtze River account for only 36.5 percent of the country's total territory but have 80.9 percent of its total water resources. However the areas north of Yangtze, which make up 63.5 percent of China, possess only 19.1 percent of total water resources.

Water availability, distribution and supply are major challenges for China that are worsening with time. In general, the majority of China's precipitation falls in the southeast (1,800mm per year), an area prone to flooding. But China's north and west are dry (rainfall up to 200 mm per year) and are getting worse. Increasing water demand for domestic use, transportation, industry, and other development activity compounds the problem of water availability imbalance and extreme weather conditions. Shortages have been compounded by droughts throughout the region (in 2000 one of the worst in fifty years struck).

China has per capita water resources of less than 2,300 cubic meters, only one-fourth the world average. The Haihe (the Hai River) watershed has the lowest water availability on a per capita basis: merely 358 m3/year as per the population of 1998. The ratio of total annual water withdrawal to total annual available water resources in the Haihe basin exceeds 95 percent. The ratios in the Huanghe and Huaihe basins are about 75 percent and 70 percent, respectively. The situation is not too different in the other basins barring a few exceptions in the South. According to China's Ministry of Water Resources, a serious water crisis will descend by 2030 when China's population will peak at 1.6 billion. Throughout China approximately 60 million people, predominantly in rural areas, have difficulty getting enough water for their daily needs and 25 percent of the total population is without access to drinking water. Agriculture consumes 69 percent of China's water supply.

Water Resources of China

The average annual river runoff generated within China is 2,711.5 km3. Precipitation makes up 98 percent of total river runoff, the remaining 2 percent coming from melting glaciers. Although China has the fifth largest amount of internal renewable water resources in the world, after Brazil, the Russian Federation, Canada and Indonesia, it is faced with regional water crises. Total actual renewable water resources per capita accounted for 2,111 m3/year in 2008, while world average is estimated at 6,466 m3/year, and are expected to decline to 1,890 m3/year as its population rises to a projected peak of 1.5 billion by around 2033. Moreover, it varies a lot within the country, going from less than 500 m3/year per inhabitant in the Huai and Hai-Luan river basins in the north to over 25,000 m3/year per inhabitant in river basins in the southwest.

Water Utilisation

In 2005, total water withdrawal in China was estimated at 554.1 km3 of which 65 percent (358.0 km3) was for irrigation, 12 percent (67.5 km3) for municipal use and 23 percent (128.6 km3) for industry (Table 2 and Figure 1). The problem is only going to get worsened in the future due to continuing population growth and increasing levels of industrialisation as is brought out by the figure below.

Figure: China - Water supply and demand gap.

Water and Potential for Conflict Within China

From the earliest days of Chinese history, water, governance, and stability have been interlinked. Today this history is important to remember as China's degraded water supply and inadequate distribution of fresh water are compounded by the government's inadequate responses. A number of forces at work in China today are increasing her vulnerability to internal conflict and instability driven in part by water issues as given in subsequent paras.

Poor Economic Performance in Areas Suffering Water Scarcity. The areas suffering water scarcity are home to 70 percent of China's population, but produce only 30 percent of the GDP. Rural incomes and productivity in China have stagnated and contributed to unrelieved poverty in rural areas.

Issues of Water Supply and Distribution. These are exacerbating the already existing contradictions especially since rural agriculture still constitutes 80 percent of China's water use. This leaves poor rural farmers disproportionately vulnerable to water scarcity.

Sensitive Ethnic and Religious Divisions. The geography of China's water distribution shows that areas hardest hit by water scarcity also contain a large number of minority groups and rural poor.

Regional Divisions. Economic disparity has increased as the economies of the urban east far outpace rural western areas. The northeast is China's grain growing region, which is heavily dependent on the irrigation that still consumes most of the country's fresh water. Because of this, water shortages and the government's inability to solve the problems disproportionately affects the rural poor in this area.

Class Divisions. These have been caused because of rural vs urban competition for scarce resources that deepens class division and disaffection.

Unequal Distribution of Benefits. Large-scale projects for infrastructure developments, such as major dams and diversion projects, designed to alleviate water shortages disadvantage and dislocate certain groups while benefiting others.

Coupled to the above is the fact that water requirement is also increasing for electricity generation as the demand for electricity is continuously on the rise owing to the rapid industrialisation in China. The figures have not been quoted; however, suffice to say that the same is also putting a great stress on the river waters for generation of hydro-electricity, the capacity for which is being enhanced at a very fast rate.


The gist of the above is that the demand for water is on the rise whereas supply is either stagnant or even decreasing due to the effects of global warming. This has led to increasing potential areas which can give rise to conflict within China. In order to obviate the same, China needs to maximise the optimal utilisation of all available water resources. In doing so, she is bound to keep her national interests paramount, unmindful of the consequences her actions are bound to generate on the other neighbours.

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