Saturday 30 March 2013

China water woes

 The disappearing rivers of China: More than 28,000 waterways vanish from nation's maps, sparking fears over environmental cost of nation's economic progress

The polluted Songhua River near Harbin, northeast China. Officials have admitted the number of rivers has more than halved in 60 years and industrialisation may be to blame

29 March, 2013

Around 28,000 rivers have disappeared from China's state maps and environmental researchers claim the startling loss is down to the country's breakneck economic progress.

An official report from China’s Ministry of Water Resources released its first ever national census of water earlier this week found that the number of rivers in China with catchment areas of at least 100 square kilometres has dropped by half compared with 60 years ago.

The official study, conducted by around 800,000 surveyors said there were 22,909 rivers in China which had catchment areas of at least 100 sq km – as of the end of 2011. This is less than half the government’s previously estimated figure of over 50,000.

The large fall in the number of these rivers has prompted fears that China’s rapid economic development has also caused considerable water and soil loss.

The state of China's rivers and other water sources hit the headlines recently thanks to the government being forced to tackle 'cancer villages' - areas where pollution is so bad it has lead to a huge rise in diseases like stomach cancer - after a huge social media backlash from both ordinary Chinese people and global campaigners.

There was also an outcry when it was reported earlier this month that 16,000 dead pigs were dumped in the Yangtze river.

Polluted: A worker rows a boat in Chaohu Lake, filled with blue-green algae, in Hefei, Anhui. Access to drinking water is a major problem in vast swathes of China

But Huang He, deputy director of the group in charge of the census, said the disparity in the numbers was caused mainly by inaccurate estimates in the past, as well as climate change and water and soil loss, according to the South China Morning Post.

Huang said many figures released in the new study had not been known before. 'For example, we used to think China had 8,700 water reservoirs, but the census shows the number has now reached 98,002.'

The latest research, which took three years to complete, is the first comprehensive study to show the precise number of waterways, reservoirs and irrigation zones in China.

It also showed China, despite losing the waterways, still has an extensive problem with flooding in many parts of the country.

The mainland regularly battles deadly floods and downpours which affect millions each year. More than 66 per cent of the population and 90 per cent of all cities are located in regions threatened by floods.

A Chinese expert on water-related issues, said that China 'is facing a water crisis that includes water shortages, water pollution and a deterioration in water quality'

Last year, floods in Beijing killed more than 70 people and affected over 1.6 million residents.

The report stated that flood prevention measures were inadequate – particularly for medium and small rivers.

In a 2006 interview, Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and an expert on water-related issues, said that China 'is facing a water crisis that includes water shortages, water pollution and a deterioration in water quality.

He added: '400 out of 600 cities in China are facing water shortages to varying degrees, including 30 out of the 32 largest cities. In the north, due to the drying up of the surface water, the underground water has been over-extracted. The situation is not sustainable'.

Deluge: Despite the drop in rivers, China has major problems with flooding due to inadequate defences

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