China’s natural renewable water reserves per capita are about one-quarter of the world’s average and the numbers are expected to get worse as the population grows.
The country presently has 2,200 cubic meters of water per person per year, but by 2050 this is forecasted to drop to 1,760 cubic meters. More than 400 cities are facing water shortages, and 100 cities, including Beijing and Tianjin, are facing severe water shortages.
Generally, northern China, with only one-tenth of the world’s average per capita water reserves, is suffering far worse than the southern provinces. However, the south’s water supply, while sufficient in volume, is dismally polluted. Around 75% of Chinese lakes are polluted and only 63% of groundwater is suitable for drinking. With continued industrial water pollution, the numbers keep getting worse.
Luckily, a concerted effort is being made to remedy the crisis. Starting in 2002, China revised the Water Resource Law, changing water from a commonwealth commodity, with extremely low fees, to a more reasonably expensive commodity in the market, thus lowering consumption rates. In addition, the law further opened up the water industry to foreign companies.
More recently, China’s stimulus package has pushed the industry into overdrive, with the government allocating US$30.7 billion for environmental projects. A large share of that will go toward water infrastructure and wastewater treatment.