Assignment Asia Episode 27: China’s Water Woes

When it comes to water, China is facing multiple challenges. The country is grappling with a severe shortage.

How much can we consume? How to secure water safety? And it’s not only how much you have, but how to use it.

In this edition, we travel across China with Han Bin. To look at the worsening water shortage, and the search for solutions.

Notes from the reporter: Searching answers for China’s water woes

For the past several months, we’ve been travelling across the country, to find out answers for China’s water problems. Unfortunately, nobody knew, or rather, nobody could provide quick, easy solutions.

I have to say China is unlucky that it is not a water-rich country, and to make matters worse, water is not evenly distributed across the vast land.
In some places, water seems to be endless. In some cases almost nonexistent. And no matter where we went… to the desert in Inner Mongolia, to the snow mountains in Tibet, to Danjiangkou Reservior, or village in Hebei province, whether the water was scarce or abundant, everyone said the same thing: the water resources have been reduced, and quality has deteriorated.

What I have found, the key problem is not only a shortage, but that it’s largely the result of over-capacity and modernization. In many cases, it’s a choice between man and nature, development and eco-protection. Yet, the country is drying up, as a result of global warming. But human activities also play a key role. The eco-system is increasingly vulnerable. Drought is not only in the north, most of China’s coastal cities are also desperately short of water. Even worse, much of the surface and ground water has been polluted. In many cases; crisis comes not only because of the shortage, but also the poor management of resources. Man has taken much water than nature can provide. It’s not about how much you have, but how you use it.

People are expecting revolutionary measures. The government is slowing the speed of growth, and has shifted from its long time GDP-first policy to a comprehensive model. But the effects of China’s worsening eco-system, and especially its water problems, will be felt for a very long time. That’s the background of this special program. We are trying to find the answers, and hoping to provide a thorough and fair understanding of what’s possible and what’s practical.

This program is also about individuals struggling to deal with the crisis. Their fate and water are intertwined. What impressed me most are the people interviewed. They make the whole project meaningful. The biggest victims are ordinary people, not the economy. Desertification, drought, ground water contamination and depletion— saving water in fact is saving lives. Preserving water resources is preserving their own living and lifestyles. That’s the message we want to send through this program. People are so small in the face of nature, but they can make big differences.

Herdswoman Liu Jinxiang who wants to make the desert green by her own way; the water ranger Zhaxi Duojie in Sanjiangyuan, who has been campaigning as a lonely warrior, the environmentalist Ma Jun who has been courageous to speak out, and the architect Kuang Xiaoming, who’s been using his knowledge to help the city survive…. We see public awareness growing. And that’s the real hope of solving China’s water crisis.

China used to say that man can conquer nature. We’ve seen how decades of fast development took little consideration of the cost. The government is now working hard to change this. But as there are too many debts to pay, the effects of China’s water problems will continue to be felt. What China is dong now, not only decides its own future, but the global environment as well. That’s why water will be a topic that deserves our attention for a long time.

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