Southern water for north China: Is water conveyance infrastructure a long-term solution to water stress?

Water Agriculture Water usage China

The north of China has considerably less water than the south. That is a problem, as the majority of the Chinese population resides in the north and most of its productive farmland is also located in that region. A solution to the imbalance was proposed in the 1950s. It involved the construction of a series of three canals that would transfer water from the Yangtze River in the south, to the Yellow River in the north. Two of the canals are operational and, while they have reduced the north’s dependence on ground and surface water sources, they will not be a long-term solution to water scarcity.

Key points:

- The planning, construction and operation of grand infrastructure projects is a key component of the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy.

- Canals that shift water from the south of the country to the drier north, are the most recent examples of those grand infrastructure projects.

- While the transfer of water from the south to the north has relieved some of the pressure on ground and surface water sources, it is not a long-term solution to water stress in China.

- A greater focus on demand-side reform, including the introduction of water-conserving measures in agriculture and industry, will result in a larger reduction in the level of water stress.

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