China counts economic costs of water shortages

China counts economic costs of water shortages
Published: 26 March 2004

Water tables are falling. Rivers run black with effluent. Cities are slowly sinking into their foundations and acid rain falls across almost a third of China’s land area.  The chronic degradation of China’s environment is not new. But official alarm is growing in step with the costs that such degradation extract from the economy, raising implications for international commodity prices and Beijing’s plans for political reform.  "China faces a serious problem of water shortages. This has become one of the important factors restraining economic development this year," said Wang Jirong, a senior official at the State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa).  She said that because of the overuse of groundwater, the ground in cities such as Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Wuxi was sinking under the weight of its buildings. In Shanghai, the authorities have had to limit the construction of tall and heavy buildings in some areas because of subsidence.

The province was forced to close 3301 sub-standard mining, cement, oil refining, steel and power companies last year because they failed to meet environmental standards. A similar process of closures is expected this year, officials in Shanxi said.  In Shandong, a large agricultural province, a drought so far this year is exacerbating a situation in which water is so short that the Yellow River, called "China’s sorrow" for the ferocious floods that it once unleashed, now runs dry before it meets the sea almost every year.