Following China's Water: A Threat of Scarcity
A new study of the flow of water around China's many provinces has revealed an alarming disparity in access. Climate change concerns have the environmentally conscious country already trying to balance this water wealth, but researchers are suggesting that there is a better way.
As the Earth's precipitation patterns continue to change with global climate, many regions are becoming increasingly water-starved. Last month Nature World News reported on the developing water crisis in Iran, one started by a warming climate and natural conditions and exasperated by poor management of precious resources.
Now, experts have turned their attention to China, whose massive industrial sector, urban sector, and simple population numbers could potentially turn encroaching drought conditions into another water crisis.
According to a study conducted as a collaboration between the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the University of Maryland, water is distributed unevenly in China, with water most scarce in northern provinces while wealthier southern regions draw on limited northern supplies.
To make things worse trade between the provinces exacerbates this problem. IIASA researcher Laixiang Sun, a study co-author, explained how this works in a recent statement.
"When goods and services are exchanged, so is virtual water," he said. "For example, it takes about 1,600 cubic meters of actual water to produce one metric ton of wheat. When a country or region imports a ton of wheat instead of producing it domestically, it saves most of that."
The study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology details how researchers traced the "hidden water footprint" of trade, finding that while international imports can lessen the water burden in strained regions, inter-province trade is just making things worse.
"Importing water-intensive goods from one water-scarce region to another doesn't solve the problem of water scarcity - it just shifts the pressure to other regions," said co-author Klaus Hubacek.
According to the researchers, China has already launched a multi-billion dollar water transfer project to transfer water from the south to the north. However, they claim that unless the country acknowledges the water burden of its provincial trade, this initiative will only delay the inevitable.
"With the fast growth of China's economy, and increasing urbanization, this [scarcity] trend is likely to continue in the next few decades," Sun concluded.