Olympics water diversion threatens millions
Financial Times, Feb. 26, 2008
The diversion of water to Beijing for the Olympics and for big hydropower projects threatens the lives of millions of peasant farmers in Chinas north-western provinces, according to a senior Chinese government official.
In an interview with the Financial Times, An Qiyuan, a member and former chairman of the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Committee for Shaanxi province and former Communist party chief of Shaanxi, warned of an impending social and environmental disaster because of overuse of scarce water resources.
In a critical tone seldom heard from Chinese officials, Mr An called on Beijing to provide compensation to the provinces that have been told to pump their cleanest water to the capital in order to ensure potable supplies during the Olympics.
Beijing will need an estimated 300m cubic metres of additional water just to flush out the polluted and stagnant rivers, canals and lakes in its central areas to put on a clean, environmentally-friendly face for Olympic visitors, according to municipal officials.
In order to preserve the quality of Beijings water we have to close all our factories. But we still need to live. So I say the government needs to compensate Shaanxi, Mr An said. If you dont compensate the masses then how can they survive?
He called on the central government to remove hydropower projects on the Yellow River particularly the Sanmenxia Dam built in the late 1950s which he blamed for extreme flooding, worsening pollution and dwindling water supplies.
The average annual per capita water supply in China is 348 cubic metres, well below the global average and the United Nations definition of water shortage, which is anything below 1,000 cubic metres. Beijings supply is even lower, at 235 cubic metres. Many experts say these shortages are exacerbated by artificially low prices set by the government.
Beijing is facing a water crisis and it is fighting for water with neighbouring cities, including Tianjin and Zhangjiakou, said Wang Jian, a Beijing government employee and activist on water issues. The price of water does not reflect its true value, but the government has decided to control the price in order to maintain a harmonious society in the run-up to the Olympics.
The government has launched a grandiose $60bn south to north water diversion project that will channel about 1.2bn cubic metres of water a year from wetter southern provinces to the countrys arid north.
Many experts have criticised the scheme for being short-sighted and say the concrete reservoirs and channels being built to transport the water will increase evaporation and lower already depleted water tables by reducing the amount of water absorbed into the soil.
As the economy develops water usage has increased greatly and our water has become increasingly polluted even the soil is polluted, Mr An said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008