China's Growing Water Crisis

By Elizabeth Economy, on , Feature

"In China's thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humanity and nature has never been as serious as it is today." -- Minister of Environment Zhou Shengxian, February 2011.

What is the biggest challenge that China faces? Corruption, the gap between the rich and poor, and the rapidly aging population often top the list of answers to this question. Yet a closer look suggests that the greatest threat may well be lack of access to clean water. From "cancer villages" to violent protests to rising food prices, diminishing water supplies are exerting a profound and harmful effect on the Chinese people as well as on the country's capacity to continue to prosper economically. While much of the challenge remains within China, spillover effects -- such as the rerouting of transnational rivers and a push to acquire arable land abroad -- are also being felt well outside the country's borders. China's leaders have acknowledged the severity of the challenge and have adopted a number of policies to address their growing crisis. However, their efforts have fallen woefully short, as they fail to include the fundamental reforms necessary to turn the situation around. Meanwhile domestic pressures, as well as international concerns, continue to mount. ...

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