The newly approved 10-year drought alleviation plan lifts a corner on the extent of China’s growing water shortages. Two out of three of the country’s counties and 110 out of its 658 cities have suffered from water shortages, according to a statement issued after the State Council meeting approving the plan. This summer’s persistent drought in southwestern China left 14 million people short of drinking water, damaged millions of hectares of farmland and left industry short of power after river levels fell too low to drive hydroelectric power generation plants. Meanwhile drought in the wheat belt on the North China Plain has become all but the norm, leading to growing concern about grain supply.
Fifty years ago China had half as many natural lakes again as it does today. Climate change and growing demands for water are the cause of drought occurring increasingly frequently. The new plan is to build more reservoirs, set up a drought-monitoring network to help with early drought relief, and promote water conservation, particularly in agriculture. Price controls may be imposed on projects that consume large amounts of water. The goal is to “significantly improve” access to drinking water in drought-hit counties by 2015 and to ensure safe supplies of drinking and irrigation water within five years after that.