Xihu National Nature Preserve (西湖国家级自然保护区) sits in between Dunhuang (敦煌), Gansu’s oasis town, and China’s sixth largest desert, the Kum-tagh (库姆塔格). The 660,000-hectare region is the only green belt that shields lands to the east from marching sands coming out of the west. Wetlands in the preserve are shrinking, the result of dropping water tables and decreasing water supply from glaciers on Qilian and Altun (阿尔金) mountains. The region’s Shule (疏勒河) and Dang (党河) Rivers have gone nearly dry in laces, reducing above-ground water supplies to both Dunhuang and Xihu. The expansion of agriculture around Dunhuang and a boom in logging of Euphrates poplar forests (胡杨林) for construction have made the water shortage worse.
“The two most prominent features of 2007’s weather in Guangzhou have been higher temperatures and less rainfall,” experts from the Guangdong provincial astronomical association concluded as the year drew to a close. One of China’s largest subtropical cities, Guangzhou set numerous meteorological records in 2007. With an average temperature over 23 degrees Celsius, Guangzhou registered its hottest year in 2007 since records started being kept in 1908. Annual average temperatures have risen more since 1997 than in previous 30 years combined. Three years–2003, 2006 and 2007–recorded average temperatures above 23 degrees Celsius (74 degrees Fahrenheit). With the exception of April, every month in 2007 was hotter than usual. If this trend continues, experts say, Guangzhou’s climate will eventually transform from subtropical to tropical–a change that will almost certainly lead to major changes in residents’ lifestyles.
Up north, the government has embarked on a multi-billion dollar project to divert water from other parts of the country to water-poor Beijing to ensure its steady supply this year and beyond. At least one academic is now questioning the sustainability of such a project and suggested the unspeakable: to move the capital [translation by China Dialogue]:
The historical advantages that led Beijing to become China’s capital no longer exist, and the location’s disadvantages are becoming ever more apparent. If Beijing remains the capital it will not only be a burden on the rest of the nation, the city itself will be led down a dead end…
Retaining Beijing as the capital continues to present problems. A city of 20 million people located in such a water-poor area raises concerns. Should the authorities not consider the capacity of the environment? Can we really afford the cost of locating the capital in Beijing? Are we already damaging the balanced growth of the nation?
Quenching Beijing’s thirst has already meant tapping the Hai River and water from neighbouring provinces. Now the Han River is to be diverted for a huge project transferring water from the south to the north. The impact of this project on the lower reaches of the Han River should not be underestimated. It will not necessarily solve water problems in the north, but it may well destroy the environment in the south. Beijing may have moved the Shougang steel plant for the sake of its air quality, but it continues to develop water-intensive industry. Why not move the industry and resources where there is more water?
Photo by Mike Chen