27 September 2007

More NYTimes Coverage of China's Economic Boom and Environmental Woes

Excerpt from the NYTimes front page article today:

"For the Communist Party, the immediate challenge is the prosaic task of forcing the world’s most dynamic economy to conserve and protect clean water. Water pollution is so widespread that regulators say a major incident occurs every other day. Municipal and industrial dumping has left broad sections of many rivers “unfit for human contact.”

Cities like Beijing and Tianjin have shown progress on water conservation, but China’s economy continues to emphasize growth. Industry in China uses 3 to 10 times more water, depending on the product, than industries in developed nations.

“We have to now focus on conservation,” said Ma Jun, a prominent environmentalist and author of “China’s Water Crisis.” “We don’t have much extra water resources. We have the same resources and much bigger pressures from growth.”

In the past, the Communist Party has reflexively turned to engineering projects to address water problems, and now it is reaching back to one of Mao’s unrealized schemes: the $62 billion South- to-North Water Transfer Project to funnel 45 billion cubic meters, or 12 trillion gallons, northward every year along three routes from the Yangtze River basin, where water is more abundant. The project, if fully built, would be completed in 2050. The eastern and central lines are already under construction; the western line, the most controversial because of environmental concerns, remains in the planning stages.

The North China Plain undoubtedly needs any water it can get. An economic powerhouse with more than 200 million residents, the region has limited rainfall and depends on groundwater for 60 percent of its water supply. Other countries have aquifers that are being drained to dangerously low levels, like Yemen, India, Mexico and the United States. But scientists say the aquifers below the North China Plain may be drained within 30 years."

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