For All the Tea in China, Not Enough Water

Water is important for tea. Yet present-day China is facing a severe water shortage. So it will be increasingly difficult to enjoy a good cup of tea without a supply of good water. From various media sources, here are some sobering facts to ponder:

More than 70 percent of China's rivers and lakes are polluted, while underground water supplies in 90 percent of Chinese cities are contaminated.

At present, 300 million Chinese do not have access to drinkable water, as heavy pollution compounds water scarcity problems.

China is a country that has only one fourth as much water per head of its population as the world average. The expansion of industries like paper and cement strain water supplies even further.

There are water shortages in 400 of China's 600 largest cities.

The World Health Organization says that 700 million of China’s 1.3 billion people drink water that doesn’t meet WHO’s minimum standards, primarily because of improper treatment of industrial, human and animal waste. Barely 20 percent of China’s sewage is adequately treated.

Well-off residents of cities can buy bottled water, but impoverished Chinese have no choice but to drink tap or well water. They always boil it, which can kill bacteria and parasites but won’t remove chemical contaminants.

In cities with modern water treatment plants, the tap water may still be unsafe because the water pipes are so old and rusted, the clean water gets polluted on its way to the tap.

Bottled water is not always the answer either, since small bottling companies may fill bottles with tap water, passing it off as purified water.

Since the 1950s, China has lost 1000 lakes and 26% of all of its wetlands.

China's vice minister of water resources, Er Jingping, said on Dec. 28, 2005 that some 300 million rural residents drink water contaminated by fluorine, arsenic, high levels of salt or other organic or industrial pollutants.

Nearly two thirds of the around 660 cities nationwide, mostly located in coastal areas, report water shortages. Ten of the Chinese provinces are commonly hit by severe water shortage with per capita water availability of less than 500 cubic meters.

China's per capita water availability stands at 2,200 cubic meters, which is about a quarter of the world average, according to China's Ministry of Water resources. Severe water shortage has led to the over-tapping of groundwater in many parts of China, which in turn has caused serious problems like less drinking water for future generations and large areas of earth degradation, said He Bin, an engineer of Haihe River Water Resources Committee affiliated with the Ministry of Water Resources.

The water deficit in normal years across the country approximates 40 billion cubic meters.

China's population hit 1.3 billion last year, and is expected to reach 1.6 billion in 2030. A growing population, combined with rapid economic development and industrialization will strain water supplies even further.

Water shortages are costing the Chinese industry and the economy billions of dollars; simply because there is not enough water for industrial uses. A shortage of water causes an average 280 billion yuan (35 billion U.S. dollars) in direct economic losses each year, suggests a report on China’s current status of water resources. The research was funded by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology. The lack of adequate water supply will be a major impediment to China’s social and economic development over the next 30 years.


Warren said...

1 000 litres of water = 1 cubic meter. That means per capita water availability of 500 cubic meters would translate into 500 000 litres. But that just means how much water is available. It's not indicative of how much water the average person uses in China.

In Canada, we use 335 litres of water a day. In the US, they use 380 litres of water a day. In North America, we really take water for granted. Most of the water we use is wasteful.

Warren said...

Average daily domestic water use in Canada of 335 litres, in the US it's 380 litres; and in China it's only about 80 litres per person per day.

Tom said...

I was just having this discussion with another US friend. He doesn't agree that there is a water crisis growing anytime soon.

The political implications are pretty interesting -- best discussed over a cup of tea.

Warren said...

I don't really care about the political stuff. I just look at the water situation from a perspective of tea enjoyment. Kind of makes your tea hard to swallow when you know most of the water is polluted. And the romantic notion of pure mountain springs and brewing tea, like in ancient China - is kind of lost when water sources are so polluted.

Kind of makes you wonder, of the many famous springs in China, how many are no longer - dried up; or how many are unstuitable for drinking due to ground water contamination.

I don't have an answer for that, but maybe I can find out sometime. I do know, some of those famous springs mentioned in historical tea texts no longer exist.

Tom said...

I think that research on what has become of those springs could be bundled into a fascinating book.

Just my two cents.

Lee said...

We won't be able to avoid the politics when things get desparate. China will have to call in its IOUs in the form of grains and other foods. (It is how water resources are made portable.)
Lester Brown has been writing about this for many years.


The increase demand for cattle in China, especially in the form of dairy cows, is one way the water is getting used at a higher level.

Lee In Mashiko, Japan