Copyright The Guardian
Monday February 13, 2006
More than four-fifths of the wetlands along northern China’s biggest river system have dried up because of over-development, the state media reported yesterday in the latest warning of the dire environmental consequences of the country’s economic growth.
Fifty years ago, the Haihe river and its tributaries formed an ecologically rich area that included 1,465 square miles of wetlands. But in the years since, the expanding mega-cities of Beijing and Tianjin have sucked much of it dry. The Xinhua news agency reported that the wetlands have shrunk to 207 square miles.
Conservation officials blamed the decline on excessive exploitation of the Haihe – one of China’s most polluted waterways – and damming of the major tributaries.
Last month, water conservation was identified as a national priority in the government’s five-year plan. Supplies for China’s 1.3bn population are less than a quarter of the world average. The situation is even bleaker further north, such as on the Liao river delta, in north-east China’s Liaoning province, where farmers regularly harvest the dried-up reed beds. The near-permanent drought is worsened by the expansion of urban city populations and the encroachment of desertification.
The annual water shortage in the basin of the Haihe and two other major rivers – the Yellow and the Huaihe – is estimated to be more than 15bn cubic metres at present. By 2010, this shortfall is expected to rise to 28bn cubic metres. With reservoirs drying up, the authorities have turned to increasingly desperate measures, including cloud-seeding and ever deeper “mining” of ground water.
So much has been extracted that the water resources ministry says more than 90 rivers, including the Yellow, run dry for part of the year and 70% of water supplies are contaminated.
Compared with the 1950s, 1,000 lakes have disappeared and the nation’s wetlands have shrunk by 26%.
The extent of the dry-up was apparent last spring, when a week-long blaze destroyed 6,667 hectares of wetland in the giant Zhalung nature reserve. No one had imagined a fire would be a problem in what historically was a marshy area.
Jonathan Watts – The Guardian
Copyright The Guardian