An important question for achieving sustainable socio-economic developments in any nation is: what is the limiting factor, is it water or energy? Currently, lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent to jumbo jet crashing every four hours, this is equivalent to 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related problems. Almost 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, mainly in the developing countries; the problem will still worsen as 70 percent of industrial waste is dumped untreated into waterways. The so-called emerging economies are, also, facing an accelerating threat from mismanagement of water resources that on the long run will be the most limiting factor for achieving sustainable socio-economic development.
China isn’t an exception, with its 22% of the world’s population, an access to only 5 percent of global water resources and an estimated 300 million people that lack access to safe drinking water. According to the Ministry of Water Resources in China, if China continues to consume and pollute at today’s rate, water demand will exceed supply in less than two decades. The past decades of rapid development, massive construction of infrastructure and huge industrial developments resulted in huge pollutant’s spill untreated into waterways. An estimated 50% of groundwater in cities, 77% of 26 key monitored lakes and reservoirs and 43% of 7 major river basins are considered unfit for human contact. Meanwhile, 19% of monitored rivers and basins, 35% of lakes are reservoirs are considered unfit even for agricultural or industrial use. These effects are related to China’s huge needs for energy and the associated “energy-water” nexus, e.g. 96% of China’s electric power requires water to generate, and 47% of electricity is consumed by water scarce provinces. Agriculture is by far the largest consumer of water at 62%, and the largest polluter, with pesticides and fertilizers responsible for about half the contamination of waterways. Soils are, also, facing great degradation, the average level of organic matter in soil is now 1-5% for northeastern China’s arable land, compared with 8-10% in the 1950s. A report published in 2007 by the World Bank and the Chinese government estimated the combined health and non-health cost of outdoor air and water pollution at approximately $100 billion a year, or about 5.8% of China’s GDP. Water pollution, meanwhile, worsens China’s severe water scarcity problems, with the overall cost of water shortages estimated at 1% of GDP.
Climate change has, also, negative effects in form of growing desertification and prolonged droughts in agricultural regions nationwide with impacts on drinking water and livestock as well as water levels in some of the countries major hydropower producing regions.