WaterViews | China

Water pollution stands out as the most serious perceived environmental problem in China.

A Chinese boy fishes after school on the shores of the Yellow River in Huijihe, west of Baotou in Inner Mongolia. The river carries effluent from the paper mills and fertilizer factories lined on its banks and along its tributaries in this heavily industrialized region of China. Photo © 2009 Greg Girard/Contact Press Images for Circle of Blue.

Circle of Blue Reports
Photographs by Greg Girard/Contact Press Images

Water pollution stands out as the most serious perceived environmental problem in China. Chinese respondents do not feel especially empowered as individuals to address water problems, and they need more information to do their part in protecting water. Although less than half of respondents hold their government responsible for community water supply, the Chinese place more responsibility on the government than they do on other groups.

Of eight prompted environmental issues, water pollution is considered to be the most important environmental concern in China. Sixty-seven percent of respondents consider it to be a very serious problem, and 90 percent worry that many parts of the world will increasingly suffer from fresh water shortages.

These concerns are echoed when respondents are asked more specifically about their concern for water issues; 63 percent of respondents are very concerned about water pollution, followed closely by concern for the lack of safe drinking water (59 percent).

When asked who should be responsible for ensuring clean water in communities, Chinese respondents point to government (48 percent) and water companies (45 percent). While only 29 percent of respondents feel that large companies should be held completely responsible, 94 percent of respondents agree that companies need to be part of the solution when solving China’s drinking water problems.

Sixty-two percent of Chinese respondents agree that water shortages are too big a problem for individuals to be able to contribute to the solution, while 34 percent believe individuals can make a difference. Eighty-eight percent want to be more informed before they contribute to the solution.

Survey analysis provided by GlobeScan in cooperation with Circle of Blue. Download the complete GlobeScan/Circle of Blue Report [pdf].

China by the Numbers

  • Population: 1,338,612,968
  • Population Demography: 43% urban | 57% rural
  • GDP per Capita: US $6,000
  • Access to Safe Drinking Water: 98% urban | 81% rural
  • Access to Sanitation: 74% urban | 59% rural
  • Daily Domestic Water Use: 80 L/day
  • Water Use by Sector: 7% domestic | 26% industrial | 68% agricultural

China: Country Profile

China faces a spectrum of environmental problems, including air pollution, acid rain, water shortages, water pollution, deforestation, desertification, soil erosion and the loss of one-fifth of its agricultural land since 1949.

Water scarcity and pollution, the most pressing environmental issues in China, have the potential to destabilize China politically and economically. Approximately 63 billion tons of wastewater flow into China’s rivers every year. Aquifers in nearly 90 percent of Chinese cities are polluted. More than three-quarters of river water in urban areas is unfit for drinking or fishing. Nearly a third of the water in rivers throughout the country is unsuitable for industry or agriculture, and some 700 million Chinese drink water contaminated with animal or human waste.

Despite containing the world’s fourth largest fresh water supply, “two thirds of China’s approximately 660 cities have less than they need, and 110 of them suffer severe shortages,” according to Elizabeth Economy, a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. Cities like Beijing and Tianjin could run out of water in five to seven years, says China water expert and environmentalist Ma Jun.

Agriculture and intense industrial use exacerbate China’s water problems. China grows a vast amount of water intensive crops, including rice and wheat. It takes approximately 1000 tons of water to produce one ton of wheat. Water tables under the North China Plain, a region that produces half of China’s wheat and one third of China’s corn, are falling at a rate of three meters per year.

China also faces challenges in water efficiency. The country uses nearly four times more water than the world’s average to produce goods worth $10,000, and 20 times the amount of water used in Japan and Europe for the same product.


2 replies

Comments are closed.