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Rain, come rain! As the summer heat lies like a stifling blanket over the country, millions of Chinese farmers stare desperately at the sky. 1.4 billion people should have food. If the Rain God went wrong, the country would have to import more grains and other foodstuffs from other countries.
The past year has been dramatic. Parts of the country experienced extended periods of unusual drought, while others received buckets and buckets of rain. As the Chinese note climate change, alarm bells are ringing in full force in the corridors of power in Beijing.
The apocalyptic symbol of misery is the tall Guleelva, who has supplied the country with life-giving water since the dawn of time. In recent years, the water flow has decreased, and when drought is at its worst, the river struggles to reach the sea.
In the Beijing region and the northern provinces, groundwater is sinking dangerously fast, and farmers have to dig deeper and deeper to irrigate their fields.
It will take years to solve the problems – if they can be solved. But at least the government has a plan.
“We will build new canals and divert water across the country.”, warns the Minister of Hydropower, Li Guoying. The planned network should be ready by 2035. The minister says nothing about the cost.
Born in 1948. Kand Philol. Majored in history. He has worked at NTB Abroad, Arbeiderbladet Abroad and NRK Abroad. He has been working as a full-time writer since 1999. He is the author of twelve books on China and Asia. Many have been translated into foreign languages. He has won the Brage Prize (non-fiction) three times, the Cappelen Prize once. Giving talks and lectures mostly on China and other Asian topics. He travels a lot in Asia.
If meteorologists are right, this year’s drought will not be as devastating as last year’s. Farmers in the central and southwestern parts of the country still have to put up with little rain and miserable crops. Many cities and counties have already introduced strict water rationing.
Residents of Liangshan County, Sichuan Province, are not allowed to take a bath more than four times a month.
Our Lord was in a bad mood when he gave the Chinese water. They earned less than many other people, and it was very unevenly distributed. While southern China received more than enough, the central and northern parts were supplied with very little.
Chairman Mao tried to remedy the problems by building new canals and large water reservoirs. But much of the work was poorly done and in many cases doing more harm than good.
Since Mao’s death in 1976, the authorities have worked hard to better distribute water resources.
In 2003, hundreds of thousands of workers were hired to develop three vast waterways from the Yangtze River in the center of the country to the northern provinces. The total length is estimated at 1,200 km. When the project was completed in 2014, it was described as the largest water diversion ever.
Authorities claim that the project was absolutely necessary and that the effort lived up to expectations.
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But it also had its critics.
Both scientists and ecologists claim that such large-scale interventions in nature will worsen the environment in the long run. They also claimed that central and local authorities were doing too little to conserve the water that was already there.
Foreign researchers think the same.
“If the Chinese can reduce water consumption and increase energy efficiency, they will not need huge mega projects of this kind.”says Australian geographer Mark Wang, who has researched the water crisis in China.
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The country is now facing a new water debate, but if the debate intensifies, the regime will put a lid on it.
Environmentalists in China lead a dangerous life. Many have been locked inside over the years. Last month, 57-year-old Yang Maodong was sentenced to eight years in prison for his harsh criticism of the regime.
Party leader Xi Jinping and his circle primarily want to solve all problems themselves, from top to bottom, without popular participation.
Minister of Hydropower Li Guiying states that China has about twenty percent of the world’s population, but only six percent of its fresh water resources. Therefore, the government should think in the long term and in the long term.
The Yangtze River is still the most important source of water in the country. From its source in Tibet to its outlet in Shanghai, it supplies water to hundreds of millions of Chinese. The government wants to drain more water and channel it north. The idea is to create a “road network” covering the most populous provinces.
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But Chinese and foreign experts warn the government not to mess with the long and winding dragon, because in the delicate world of ecology, everything is connected to everything.
During Mao’s rule, China was largely self-sufficient in food.
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In addition, industry, housing construction, and new infrastructure took over large arable areas. Therefore, the government saw itself compelled to abandon the strict self-saving policy and import more and more grains, especially wheat, but also rice. Corn and soybeans are also at the top of the import list.
From 2004 to 2020, the country’s self-sufficiency score decreased from 93 to 67 percent.
This worries the all-powerful Xi Jinping, who addressed the matter in an article in Qiushi, the Communist Party’s theoretical journal, in March:
“When something goes wrong with cultivation, our fate will be in the hands of others, and we will become dependent on others to be able to fill our stomachs with food… That must not happen.”! “
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Xi insists that China should become as self-sufficient as possible in all kinds of food. But climate change threatens to bring down his grandiose ambition. The regime has proven capable of developing its own internet and isolating the country in a number of ways.
But Xi and his associates have no way of affecting the global climate, at least not in the short term.
It is part of the narrative that China today is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide from fossil energy and industry.
The country has already overtaken the USA in 2006 and last year was responsible for about 30 percent of the world’s emissions. The main reason is China’s massive consumption of coal. At a United Nations environmental conference in Glasgow two years ago, Chinese envoys conceded that it would not be possible to reverse the trend until 2030 at the earliest.
India, which is now the world’s most populous country, is also expected to increase its emissions.
As temperatures rise, the authorities’ fight against poverty may prove hopeless
Farmers in China, like anywhere else, depend on a certain amount of stability and predictability. Otherwise, most things stop.
Now the weather and climate are becoming more and more unpredictable. In China, dry periods appear to be longer and the rainy season shorter and more intense. With lower water levels in rivers, it becomes more difficult to sustain hydroelectric power production – and thus industrial production.
Under these conditions, it is tempting to increase coal production. This is exactly what China did last year, with even bigger emissions as a result.
One can only be afraid to continue.
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