Thirsty China is investing $6 billion in water projects

Water is released from the Three Gorges Dam.
Water is released from the Three Gorges Dam.
Image: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
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The great hand of Chinese state investment is turning its touch toward the country’s water sources. China’s State Council is investing ¥38 billion ($6 billion) in water efficiency projects covering 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres) in northeastern China, reports the China Securities Journal, a part of state-run media Xinhua.

What’s called “water security” in international-development-speak threatens both industry and social well-being in China. China’s Ministry of Water Resources (yes, there is an entire ministry for water) projects that by 2030 the country will be short of meeting demand by 199 billion cubic meters. The construction and operation of just a string of coal mines in Inner Mongolia and other northwestern areas will use up at least 10 billion cubic meters of water by 2015.

The irrigation and water-conservation projects are meant to help prevent a flood of  ”environmental refugees” from provinces across the north of the country that the World Bank defines as suffering water scarcity. Despite the growing wealth of Chinese citizens especially in cities, it’s estimated that 300 million rural Chinese “rely on unsafe drinking water”, according to the World Bank (pdf, p. 19).

China also needs this water to produce food for its burgeoning population of at least 1.3 billion people. Since the beginning of China’s economic boom, food security analysts have been warning that growth will cause food shortages not just in China but across the world. That hasn’t happened yet largely because China is investing billions of dollars in projects like water efficiency to ensure its agricultural sector can survive.