Think the Air Pollution Is Bad? China Faces a Water Contamination Crisis

Posted in: Global Water News, Misc Water Issues, Water Contamination, Water Crisis
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Photograph by Teh Eng Koon/AFP via Getty Images
A polluted canal in Beijing

Article courtesy of Dexter Roberts | November 19, 2014 | Bloomberg Business Week | Shared as educational material

China’s hazardous smog is an in-your-face and choke-your-lungs kind of problem—hard to miss, particularly when air quality soars to severely polluted levels, as it did in Beijing today (Nov.19). But an equally dire environmental threat is the alarmingly low quality of China’s water resources.

That was highlighted in an investigative report on China’s water crisis in the official Xinhua News Agency yesterday. Sixty percent of China’s groundwater, monitored at 4,778 sites across the country, is either “bad” or “very bad,” according to a survey by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Xinhua reported. Meanwhile, more than half, or 17 of China’s 31 major freshwater lakes, are polluted, at least slightly or moderately.

The report said that 300 of China’s 657 major cities also face water shortages, according to the standard set by the United Nations. A particularly severe problem is the dearth of water in the North China region, including the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and the surrounding province of Hebei. Water per capita in that area amounts to only 286 cubic meters annually, much less than the 500 cubic meter minimum. Below that minimum is classified as “absolute scarcity.” (Xinhua says under 1,000 cubic meters per capita classifies as “scarcity.”)

With rapid urbanization an official economic priority, fears are that China’s crisis of degraded and inadequate water supplies could worsen. Meanwhile, about 3.3 million hectares of farmland—an area the size of Belgium—has become too contaminated to grow crops, China’s authorities revealed late last year.

“Experts blamed some local governments and businesses for recklessly pursuing quick money by developing projects that devoured resources and caused serious pollution,” the China Daily reported today, citing the Xinhua article on water scarcity.

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