China's struggle for water security
By Giles Hewitt
Way back in 1999, before he became China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao warned that water scarcity posed one of the greatest threats to the "survival of the nation".
Sixteen years later, that threat looms ever larger, casting a forbidding shadow over China's energy and food security and demanding urgent solutions with significant regional, and even global, consequences.
The mounting pressure on China's scarce, unequally distributed and often highly polluted water supply was highlighted in a report released at the World Water Forum this week in Daegu, South Korea.
Published by the Hong Kong-based NGO, China Water Risk (CWR), it underlined the complexity of the challenge facing China as it seeks to juggle inextricably linked and often competing concerns over water, energy supply and climate change.
"There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to China's water-energy-climate nexus," the report said.
"More importantly, China's energy choices do not only impact global climate change, but affect water availability for Asia," it said, warning of the danger of future "water wars" given China's upstream control over Asia's mightiest rivers.
The Qinghai-Tibetan plateau is essentially the world's largest water tank and the origin of some of Asia's most extensive river systems including the Indus, Brahmaputra and Mekong. The most significant link in the nexus the report describes is the fact that 93 percent of China's power generation is water-reliant.
"Chinese officials are starting to say water security comes first," the report's author Debra Tan told AFP in Daegu. "Because without it, there is no energy security and, of course, no food security."Agriculture accounts for between 65 and 70 percent of China's water use and vast amounts are wasted by inefficient irrigation.