April 24, 2014
Forget bank-runs, the water run has begun in China. Residents of the western city of Lanzhou rushed to buy mineral water earlier this month after local tap water was found to contain excessive levels of the toxic chemical benzene. But that is the tip of what is a massive problem facing the Chinese people. Not only do they suffer choking smog day after day, but, as The Business Times reports, sixty per cent of underground water in China which is officially monitored is too polluted to drink directly, state media have reported, underlining the country’s grave environmental problems.
As The Business Times reports,
Sixty per cent of underground water in China which is officially monitored is too polluted to drink directly, state media have reported, underlining the country’s grave environmental problems.
Water quality measured in 203 cities across the country last year rated “very poor” or “relatively poor” in an annual survey released by the Ministry of Land and Resources, the official Xinhua news agency said late Tuesday.
Water rated “relatively” poor quality cannot be used for drinking without prior treatment, while water of “very” poor quality cannot be used as a source of drinking water, the report said.
The proportion of water not suitable for direct drinking rose from 57.4 per cent from 2012, it said.
As we noted previously, The World Bank’s Ismail Serageldin puts it succinctly: “The wars of the 21st century will be fought over water.”
That old axiom that the earth is 75% water… not quite. In reality, water constitutes only 0.07% of the earth by mass, or 0.4% by volume.
This is how much we have, depicted graphically:
What this shows is the relative size of our water supply if it were all gathered together into a ball and superimposed on the globe.
The large blob, centered over the western US, is all water (oceans, icecaps, glaciers, lakes, rivers, groundwater, and water in the atmosphere). It’s a sphere about 860 miles in diameter, or roughly the distance from Salt Lake City to Topeka. The smaller sphere, over Kentucky, is the fresh water in the ground and in lakes, rivers, and swamps.
Now examine the image closely. See that last, tiny dot over Georgia? It’s the fresh water in lakes and rivers.
There’s no doubt that this is a looming crisis we cannot avoid. Everyone has an interest in water. How quickly we respond to the challenges ahead is going to be a matter, literally, of life and death. Where we have choices at all, we had better make some good ones.