Today, every seventh person on this planet has no access to clean drinking water, the groundwater levels have dropped significantly and water bodies are threatened by human activities resulting in sedimentation, eutrophication and acidification, to name a few. While thinking about countries with strained resources of water, one might not think about China. However, the country is a prime example.
The distribution of water in China has always been difficult. While home to 22% of the world population, the country only receives 7% of the world’s freshwater runoff. In the last 30 years, an extreme pollution of surface water, an unusually high consumption of ground water by agriculture, ever increasing industrial and household demand and the general ramifications of climate change have significantly exacerbated the situation.
In 2009, 16 out of the 20 most polluted rivers of the world were located in China. Two fifth of the country’s rivers were classified as seriously polluted. More than 350 million people in the country have no access to safe drinking water, and well over 60 % of Chinese cities are facing water shortages of some kind. In 2012, half of the cities had water classified as “poor” or “very poor”, while more than half of the country’s largest lakes and reservoirs were so contaminated that the water was found unsuitable for human consumption, as measured by the government’s own standards in 2011.
The Chinese government is currently working on an action plan to engage the serious challenge of mitigating the persisting effects of pollution, preventing further damage to the country’s water resources and cleaning up existing pollution. The plan will focus on curbing water pollution in the worst affected areas and preventing future pollution of the better conserved waters. Measures to cut industrial waste water discharge, to improve sewage management in cities and to ensure better treatment of polluted water in rural areas are currently under review. Above all else, the action plan will call for a better intergovernmental coordination between the main governmental bodies in charge of water-related issues. On the national level for instance, two ministries – the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) and the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR) – and the ubiquitous National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) are tasked with the water portfolio.