09/26/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Water scarce in Beijing, also for Olympics

The city cannot cover demands for water and in the 2007 summer rains were scarce. Now the central government wants to channel supplies from the provinces, damaging an already bowed agriculture. Experts: billions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure, but the lack of water supplies has not been resolved.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Beijing does not have enough water and the Shanxi central government has asked Hebei to re-route their reserves, without which the 2008 Olympics could be in danger.  But the provinces do not agree and forecast grave damages to crops fearing that small farmers may not receive compensation.

 

Water levels at Guanting and Miyun - Beijing's major reservoirs - have fallen sharply because last month's rainfall was about 50 per cent less than in August last year. The city's water reserve has fallen 120 million cubic metres, or more than 10 per cent, from the same period last year. Ministry of Water Resources spokesman Gu Hao insisted that the water shortage in Beijing would not affect the Olympic Games and that each year the demand was covered by surplice supplies from the provinces. That is why it will be sufficient to take “a little more water. This is nothing compared to the massive consumptions in Beijing”.  Beijing has a resource of 300 metres cubed of water per year per resident, far less that the 1000 metres believed necessary.

For year now there have been heavy withdrawals of water from Hebei and  Shanxi’s reserves, which are also dangerously low.  The situation has been worsened by the increase in pollution and the growth of the population – chiefly because of the many migrants “non resident” – caused by the Olympic construction work.  The deviation of water from North to South towards to Beijing has yet to be completed.  It is estimated that it will bring no more than one billion metres cubed of water, completely insufficient for the 15.81 million official residents.   The deputy mayor Niu Youcheng has admitted the absence of water is the principle factor impeding the city’s development.

 

But the summer was also dry in Hebei and Shanxi, who already owe 45 million cubic metres by the end of October.  In some parts of Shanxi that wheat production has been halved since April because of drought.  In Hebei, in May over 500 thousand farmers were left without water.  A Shanxi water official observes that the increased request may compromise the harvests of millions of farmers and “if the rural inhabitants discover this there is the risk of public protests. The water distribution director at Hebei's Gangnan Reservoir Bureau, Zhang Bozi, said the plan would deepen the water shortage crisis on the Jizhong plain, where most surface water was depleted and underground water overused. “The first and worst hit will be farmers in downstream areas where demand is huge and there is never any guarantee their demand will be satisfied," he said. "The government must fully evaluate the damage that the diversion may have on local farmers and establish compensation”.

 

Experts observe that in Beijing the governments’ efforts have been concentrated on the realisation of great public works and organisation in view of the Olympics, without worrying at all about what will happen to the residents afterwards.  Water supplies, air pollution and traffic have shown no signs of improvement in recent years and only “emergency” plans have been studied for the few short weeks of the Olympics.

 

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