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DROUGHT IN NORTHERN CHINA March 2, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in East Asia, Environment.
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The BBC reports that drought conditions are getting worse in Northern China, a region with over 200 million people.

In this area while this is the worst drought anyone has known there there are added factors of population pressure and inefficient use of water by industry. Water has been diverted from rivers and extracted from underground sources.

Damian Grammaticas writes:

Across northern China swathes of land are dry, parched by drought.

In some areas these are the driest conditions in a lifetime. Snowfalls in recent days have helped a little, but still, across huge areas of land, water is in short supply.

The countryside is dotted with empty dams. Standing on top of one, near Qufu in Shandong Province, you can see just a tiny muddy pool in the centre of a dam that is hundreds of metres long.

. . . China is the world’s biggest grower and consumer of wheat. In normal years it is self-sufficient. But if it has to import grain this year then that will have an impact far afield.

Already just the warnings of a possible shortfall in China’s crop have put pressure on global wheat prices.

. . . “We need a solution to this problem, if there is not enough rain we’ll all have to abandon the fields and go to the towns to find work.”

To stop that happening China’s government is spending $1bn (£600m) on emergency measures to fight the drought. In practice that means digging wells, and lots of them.

We find a team with a giant rig they have constructed in a field. Four men in blue overalls and red hard hats haul giant metal pipes into place, then drill down.

It will take them several days to dig. But the foreman tells me that this is only a temporary measure, only more rain can solve the basic problem of the drought.

The last well the team completed two days ago produced water for just a few minutes, then nothing more came out.

Deep under the earth China’s water, on its arid northern plain, is slowly running out. It is a massive problem and China is only just starting to face up to it.

Some 200 million people live across the north China plain. It is home to giant cities like Beijing and Tianjin which are expanding fast. But the area has water resources comparable to a desert country and every year as the population swells the water stress grows worse.

China’s industries are inefficient, they consume far more water than those in developed countries. The country’s construction boom means water use is even more intensive.

Many of the rivers in the north have dried up. Dams have blocked their normal flow, the water diverted to towns, farms and factories.

The northern megacities now rely on underground water sources for two-thirds of their needs. But the aquifers beneath places like Beijing are being drained, sinking as they are used faster than the rain can replenish them. Some fear the water could be gone in 30 years in places.

. . .,The biggest fear of all is that China, now an engine for the global economy, could find that lack of water constrains its future growth.

“There is a growing understanding,” Ma Jun says, “that we need to change, that our mode of growth is not sustainable. The harsh reality is that there is simply not enough water.”

The country does have huge quantities of water, but they lie far to the south, in the massive rivers that run from west to east, 1,000km away from Beijing and the cities of the north.

So China is pressing ahead with one of the world’s biggest engineering schemes to shift the water northwards.

The vagaries of nature have become the work of human beings, with climate change and global warming the instigators of extreme weather events visiting upon other forms of bad environmental practice. People and environmental practices have become environmentally unsustainable.

ELSEWHERE:

Brian at Larvatus Prodeo quotes the FAO price index showing a dramatic rise and fall followed by a rise. I did not know there was such an index.

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