08/31/2004, 00.00
ASIA

Scientists sound alarm over water crisis

Water use in Asia outstrips rainfall.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/AFP) – "Farmers are driving Asian countries towards an environmental catastrophe, using tube wells that are sucking groundwater reserves dry," New Scientist writes. According to the British scientific journal "[t]ens of millions of these wells have been drilled over the past decade, many of them beyond any official control, and powerful electric pumps are being used to haul up the water at a rate that far outstrips replenishment by rainfall." The journal goes on to say that "[t]he extraction is providing many countries with a lavish harvest in thirsty crops like rice, sugar cane and alfalfa, but the boom is bound to be short-lived."

The journal is not alone. Its words echo the alarm bells set off at a conference on water resources held last week in Stockholm (Sweden). Scientists attending the Stockholm Water Symposium warned in fact that water resources are being depleted at an alarming rate world-wide. They expect that, in a very short time, some parts of the earth could dry up and turn into desert.

In India, for example, small farmers have already driven 21 million tube wells into their fields and the number of such wells is increasing by a million a year. Half of the country's traditional hand-dug wells have instead run dry pushing many farmers to take their lives out of desperation.

New Scientist reports that in China's northern plain –the country's breadbasket– farmers are extracting 30 cubic kilometres more water each year than are being replaced by rain. In June state-owned newspaper China Daily acknowledged that the country could "plunge into a water crisis" by 2030 when its population is expected to peak at 1.6 billion.

The tube-well revolution has spread to water-stressed countries like Pakistan and Vietnam whose precious underground reserves are being used without much supervision. New Scientist writes that "Vietnam has quadrupled its number of tube wells in the past decade to one million, [whilst] water tables are plunging in the Pakistani state of Punjab, which produces 90 per cent of the country's food." (DS)

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