Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Water, water everywh-- eh, not so much!

By Carl

China has roughly the same potable water resources, in terms of volume, as the United States. This water has to serve five times our population, however. The distribution of China's water means that roughly 15% of their fresh water is available to 50% of their population.

And that's assuming they've been practicing good water conservation and good waaste management. The short answer is,
they haven't:

But this earthly paradise is disappearing fast. The proliferation of factories, farms, and cities—all products of China's spectacular economic boomis sucking the Yellow River dry. What water remains is being poisoned. From the canal bank, Shen points to another surreal flash of color: blood-red chemical waste gushing from a drainage pipe, turning the water a garish purple. This canal, which empties into the Yellow River, once teemed with fish and turtles, he says. Now its water is too toxic to use even for irrigation; two of Shen's goats died within hours of drinking from the canal.

The deadly pollution comes from the phalanx of chemical and pharmaceutical factories above Shen's fields, in Shizuishan, now considered one of the most polluted cities in the world. A robust man with a salt-and-pepper crew cut, Shen has repeatedly petitioned the environmental bureau to stop the unregulated dumping. The local official in charge of enforcement responded by deeming Shen's property "uninhabitable." Declaring that nothing else could be done, the official then left for a new job promoting the very industrial park he was supposed to be policing. "We are slowly poisoning ourselves," says Shen, shaking with anger. "How can they let this happen to our Mother River?"

The Yellow River, or Huang Ho, is dying:

Few waterways capture the soul of a nation more deeply than the Yellow, or the Huang, as it's known in China. It is to China what the Nile is to Egypt: the cradle of civilization, a symbol of enduring glory, a force of nature both feared and revered. From its mystical source in the 14,000-foot Tibetan highlands, the river sweeps across the northern plains where China's original inhabitants first learned to till and irrigate, to make porcelain and gunpowder, to build and bury imperial dynasties. But today, what the Chinese call the Mother River is dying. Stained with pollution, tainted with sewage, crowded with ill-conceived dams, it dwindles at its mouth to a lifeless trickle. There were many days during the 1990s that the river failed to reach the sea at all.

Most analysts look at the world's future and see oil.

I do not, altho oil will certainly play a role, perhaps even a significant one, in future conflicts. I see water. Between 1996 and 2006, China has tripled its oil imports, with its major source of supply coming from Saudia Arabia (175 million barrels), Angola (172 million) and Iran (123 million).

You'll notice only one of those sources supplies the US with any significant energy. Too, the water crisis in China has served to highlight the foolishness of a wasteful energy policy, particularly when your population far outstrips nearly every other nation on the planet (save India).

Water, however, is something that we may go head to head with China over. Canada has excess capacity, given its smaller population and larger land mass, and the United States will find itself bidding, particularly out west, against China.

After all, when you absolutely need water, you need water, and the cost stops being a factor when people are dying.

A quick look at a map of the Huang shows that, for all intents and purposes, it is
useless for drinking water anyplace west of Shizuishan. Unfortunately, that's where the people and the jobs are.

China is on a precipice: it needs energy. It has pollution, in abundance.

Not just water pollution, but air pollution and poisoned lands. The Beijing Olympics are already being warned about air pollution during some of the events: particularly during the
opening and closing ceremonies, as China attempts to alter the weather to prevent rain, levels of pollution may exceed not just esthetic levels, but health levels.

And the population continues to grow, although there are signs that growth may begin to reverse. There are far more single men than women in China, and many of the young women are postponing family life for their careers now. Only some 35% of Chinese women polled have said they would raise a family ahead of a career, unheard of in Chinese society.

Hmm, maybe Hillary should run for premier? She wouldn't have to worry about some upstart con man...

But those are generational changes, and the problems of pollution and water scarcity are affecting China now.

Forget oil. Water is where wars will be fought.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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