Instituto Fernand Braudel de Economia Mundial - Associado à FAAP

Ed. 47: Water in China

"To fight for every drop of water or die"

Author: Norman Gall | Published in 2012

Water in China

China’s growing water shortages may impact its growth and stability, weakening its thrust as a global power as it embarks upon an assertive role in world affairs for the first time in its millennial history as a unified state. Water shortages may prove to be far more important for China’s future than the scandals and power struggles inside the Communist Party leadership that recently captured international attention. In the words of Wang Shucheng, former minister of water resources: "To fight for every drop of water or die: that is the challenge facing China."

These concerns are gaining urgency. "The constraints of our available water resources become more apparent day by day," Hui Siyi, vice minister of water resources, told a press conference early this year. "The situation is extremely serious in many areas. With overdevelopment, water use already has surpassed what our natural resources can bear. If we don’t take strong and firm measures, it will be hard to reverse the severe shortages and daily worsening of the water situation." According to Premier Wen Jiabao, water shortages threaten the "survival of the Chinese nation."

China clearly has entered a phase of transition: a change in political leadership this year, with command of the Communist Party and government shifting to a younger generation; a change from a rural to urban social structure; a change from very fast economic growth to rhythms appropriate to an urbanized and aging society; a change to accommodate the escalating claims of citizenship, which is a concept alien to traditional Chinese society. Yet extraordinary prophecies continue to be made about China’s future. In 2010 the Nobel economics laureate Robert Fogel of the University of Chicago boldly predicted: "In 2040 the Chinese economy will reach $123 trillion, or nearly three times the economic output of the entire globe in 2000," with 40% of the world’s GDP and its per capita income at $85,000. In the intervening years, however, the Chinese people’s prudence, creativity and survival instincts will be severely tested. This essay, based on six weeks of research in China, will focus on the scope of these challenges.


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