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Video: Following the Hidden Waters of Southwest China’s Karst Region

The vast yet inaccessible underground waters in southwest Yunnan Province represent the front lines of China’s freshwater crisis. Two openings in the earth, Shi Dong and Nan Dong caves, where the Yang Liu River slips into and out of the shadows, mark the point where a fluvial region rich with surface streams meets an unusual geologic formation of soluble rock layers known as a karst landscape. It is also a fateful human dividing line, a place where China’s challenges with water scarcity, land use, and pollution come into clear focus.

VIDEO: Hidden Waters, Dragons in the Deep
Video by Brian Robertshaw; edited by Aaron Jaffe for Circle of Blue.
A look at what is commonly considered the greatest Karst landscape on earth, and its secret waters that flow underneath.

  1. As you rightly point out, although the Karst Region is an interesting and unusual landscape, it does highlight China’s water problems and what challenges it has to face in the coming years. Professor Stewart Burn has written an essay for the Future Agenda Project ( in which he outlines the future of water as a resource and the global challenges surrounding it; the Chinese example used in this article may only be a sign of things to come.

  2. The problem of fresh water in these karst regions will likely need both “top-down” and “bottom-up” collaborations to make measurable improvements for the peoples of this region. The images provided frame the situation well for the unschooled. The deforestation of this area by previous leaders and the resulting negative environmental effects are reasons for all leadership, worldwide, to slow down and examine the long range effects each initiative may bring. As seen in Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”, too often detached executive orders result in long term environmental destruction. Well done Cricle of Blue!

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