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Olympic impact on China’s water industry

February 25, 2008 at 2:12 pm

With the Beijing Olympics only months away, the Chinese government is having to resort to desperate measures to ensure that there is enough water for the construction projects, artificial lakes and fountains, plus of course the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected for the Games. Government figures show that Beijing has a water reserve of only 66,000 gallons per person, one thirtieth of the world’s average and one eighth of the Chinese average. Demand in Beijing is expected to rise by 30% when the Olympic Games start.

The Government plans to divert billions of gallons of water, hundreds of miles, to deal with the increased demand, but sadly the water is being taken from regions which can ill afford it. The province of Hebei appears to be bearing the brunt of the problem, despite the region’s ten year long drought. Whilst many of the Chinese say that they are willing to make the sacrifice, because of what the Olympic Games will mean to their country, others are less sure. Many farmers are no longer able to grow rice or vegetables because of irrigation problems and have turned to wheat and corn instead. Others have turned to rearing livestock, which in turn makes the arid conditions worse. The Government offers compensation to the farmers, but it has been reported that these payments do not always materialise. According to the Baoding Water Office, 31,000 inhabitants of the city (the largest in the province) have lost land or been forced out of their homes for the project.

The £30 billion ‘South to North Water Transfer Project’ is claimed to be the solution to Beijing’s problem. The root cause of this problem is not just from the Olympics, but is also a result of the country’s urban and industrial growth. The plan, which is already under way, will involve three huge canal systems diverting 300 million cubic metres of water from the Yangtse River in central China to the Yellow River and city of Beijing further north.

In an article published in Dec 2007 in the New York Review of Books, environmental activist, Dai Qing, describes the “water follies” due to open for the Olympic Games this summer. These include a huge lake surrounding the National Grand Theatre adjacent to Tiananmen Square, the world’s biggest fountain which shoots water 134 metres into the air at the Shunyi Water Heaven, a water park built on the dried up River Chaobai, not to mention the hundreds of golf courses built in and around the city, which all require a massive input of water. During the Games, for the first time in the city’s history, the inhabitants of Beijing will be able to turn on their taps and drink from them, courtesy of unpolluted supplies from the provinces. After the Games, however, normal service will be resumed.

The world will no doubt gasp in awe at the miracle which is the Beijing Olympics but as Dai Qing states, the fundamental point is that “…they don’t have enough water in Northern China to begin with. Why should they pay such a heavy price for Beijing?”

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