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UMD Researcher Shows China’s Economic Growth Diminishing its Water Supply

January 27, 2015

Laura Ours 301-405-5722

International Experts Say Findings are a Warning to all Nations

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - University of Maryland Professor of Geographical Sciences, Klaus Hubacek, and a team of international researchers have published new findings outlining the alarming future of China’s water supply, as the country’s booming economy and human activities continue to deplete its natural resources. 

The experts’ new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences compiles for the first time a full inventory of physical water transfers and “virtual” water redistribution via trade between Chinese provinces.

The study demonstrates that this water threat is only partially mitigated by China's current two-pronged protection approach: physical water transfers to water-depleted regions, including the major South-North water transfer projects, and the unintentional “virtual” water flows associated with the production of traded products between regions and countries.

Moreover, these efforts—which are meant to alleviate the problem—are actually exacerbating water stress for China's poorer water-exporting regions, with virtual water transfers accounting for more than one-third of the country's national water supply. Up to 65% of the water supply in some provinces is earmarked for virtual water redistribution, to be used for infrastructure and for producing exports.

Until China significantly improves its water use efficiency and addresses the impact its expanding economy is having on its natural resources, the situation will continue to deteriorate, the researchers conclude.

"China must take concrete steps to improve outlooks and outcomes for its natural resource supplies, and must recognize that economic growth comes at the price of environmental damage," Hubacek said. "Our research offers a clear warning not only for China, but for every nation on the planet: the price for economic development cannot be severe environmental destruction."