Effects of Water Scarcity in Northern China

The non-environment effects of scarcity of water to China would be mainly related to agricultural production and the economic sectors it funds. Since land and water are important inputs for continued growth in agricultural output, the inadequacy of water resources would prove a stagnating factor in such growth. Lohmar and Gale (12) for instance observe that while the southern parts of China control adequate water resources to support water-intensive farming activities such as flooding of rice fields; the water scarcity in the north is far much advanced to support such activities for a long period in future. North China water scarcity problems have also been compounded by increased uses (urbanization and population growth) whose competition has resulted into water stress; that threaten social stability through heightened conflicts between upstream and downstream users (Cai 14). It noted that with the swift urbanization and industrialization progress that the country has undergone; water uses are gradually shifting from lower valued agricultural applications to the higher value options provided by industrial and domestic uses (Molden as qtd in, Khan, Hanjra and Mu 350). This shift has lead to the scarcity of water resources in many areas in North China. The resultant non-availability of adequate water to support agricultural activities could greatly impact on the food security in the region and on China’s agricultural sector. This risk is further heightened by the effects that water scarcity has had on the region’s ecosystem.

An environmental impact that has resulted from the water scarcity crisis has been the degradation of rivers and lakes. Xia (199) for instance notes that the current status is that most of the rivers in North China have already dried out hence lost their important function of replenishing the underground water reserves. Further the volumes of rivers that flow into the sea are noted to have significantly declined by more than 10 billion m3 between the years 1950 to 2001 (Xia 199). The immediate impacts of such decreased volumes have been noted with respect to Hai river basin ecological system. This has been transformed into an inland and closed mode from the initial open mode resulting in the increased sedimentation at the river mouth (Xia 199). Such transformation has resulted into salty waters a factor that has curtailed its agricultural uses (Xia 199). This has further generated a stress in the water system in the area leading to increased exploitation of underground reserves.

A second environmental impact in the region has been increased water pollution. Xia (200) notes that the water pollution problem has increased in the last two decades from affecting sections of rivers to entire rivers in the region. Such pollution has been aggravated by the increasing population of the region and industries that have been established there. Xia (200) for instance notes that “annual discharge of polluted water into the Hai river region” have reached a high of 6 billion tons; whereas Guan Ting reservoir – a fresh water supplier in NCP – stopped its supply function from 1997 out of pollution. Wang also notes that the continued use of polluted water for irrigation has resulted into contamination of shallow layer underground water which could impact negatively on farm products (qtd in Xia 200). One of these impacts has been the challenge of China’s agricultural products to meet “sanitary and phytosanitary standards” (SPS) that are required for agricultural exports (Dong and Jensen 19). This and other factors could influence China’s foreign trade thus incomes in the future.

Apart from SPS issues that affect the marketability of agricultural products in the global market (Dong and Jensen 19); other resultant factors could also influence the country’s global trade. One of these would be the decreased output that could reduce the amount of agricultural exports from the country. Though the country’s exports have subsequently been diversified into electronic and machinery products (Amiti and Freund 39); agricultural products still occupy a large portion of the country’s exports (Lohmar and Gale 11). Water scarcity resulting in reduced production would thus pose a challenge not only in relation to ensuring food security for the enormous population but also in relation to reduction of the country’s income from foreign trade.

The countries future is however dependent on the ability of its institutions to balance between its traditional exports and the new areas that it has diversified into. Food scarcity for instance would influence the availability of labor force for other sectors of the economy. The continues availability of the country’s products at low costs would however make it difficult for its products to lose market especially in the developing nations. China’s gloom future as predicted by pessimists could thus take a long period of time to come to fulfillment.

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