The Heat Is Online

Severe Drought Forces Water Rationing in Beijing

Drought forces rationing in China's capital

Reuters News Service, June 12, 2000 (Planet Ark)


BEIJING - Beijing will soon order homes, factories, hotels and bathhouses to ration water amid a severe drought that is devastating crops and drying up rivers across northern China, state media reported.

Beijing's worst water shortage in nearly two decades has prompted the government to enact "strict and obligatory" quotas on water usage, Xinhua news agency said in a weekend report.

The quota system - yet to be unveiled - would affect industries, hotels, restaurants and universities, Xinhua said. Quotas for irrigation and households would also be introduced on an experimental basis, it said.

Factories that waste water and cause heavy pollution would be ordered to upgrade their technology or close, it said.

Several cities in coastal Shandong province have already enacted similar quotas, with residents' water supply cut by half and stiff fines imposed on wasters, Xinhua said on Sunday.

A prolonged drought is baking China's northern plains, with wheat one of the crops worst affected.

Agriculture sources said last week they expected the national wheat crop to drop nearly eight percent this year, to 105 million tonnes from 113 million tonnes, in large part due to the drought.

"FLYING DESERT"

In Henan province, which accounts for 20 percent of China's wheat, rainfall since February has been 80 to 90 percent below the seasonal average.

The drought has highlighted grave man-made problems that have contributed to the water shortages affecting the countryside and cities.

Environmental degradation, industrial pollution and soaring demand have poisoned waterways and dried out rivers.

The mighty Yellow River, tapped by factories and farmers along its 3,000 mile (5,000 km) course, has been reduced to a stream by the time it reaches its mouth in Shandong province.

Rampant felling of trees has also permitted winds to whip desert sand from western China and Inner Mongolia into the eastern farms and cities, a phenomenon some rural Chinese call "flying desert".

THIRSTY CAPITAL

The worst dust storms in years pelted Beijing in April and May, embarrassing city authorities who had only recently proclaimed victory over such storms through tree-planting programmes.

Premier Zhu Rongji, shocked by the extent of desertification during a tour of northern provinces in May, has ordered farmers to stop turning mountain slopes into terraced crop fields and to keep their animals in pens rather than let them graze freely.

In Beijing, the water table and key reservoirs are at their lowest levels since the early 1980s.

Water resources per capita were 300 cubic metres - just 3.3 percent of the world average - in the capital city, Xinhua said, citing official statistics.

Through the planned austerity programme, the city aimed to save 70 million cubic metres of water this year, 50 percent more than the amount saved in 1999, it said.

Story by Matt Pottinger
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE