February 12, 2006

Northern China Wetlands Drying Up – Xinhua

BEIJING -- The wetlands along northern China's
biggest river system are drying up because of the thirst of an
expanding population and a fast-growing economy, Xinhua news
agency reported on Sunday.

Xinhua said 12 main sections of wetlands along the reaches
of the Haihe River, which used to cover 3,800 sq km (1,465 sq
miles), have shrunk by more than 80 percent over the past five
decades to just 538 sq km (207 sq miles).

The Haihe is formed by five large rivers that spread out
like a fan over vast areas of northern China and converge near
Tianjin, a bustling port city southeast of Beijing.

One of China's three main river valleys, its basin covers
an area of 320,000 sq km (125,000 sq miles).

Xinhua quoted officials with the regional water conservancy
authority as blaming the shrinking of the wetlands on excessive
exploitation of the Haihe and damming of the river's

"Water resource experts attribute the worrisome
environmental changes to overuse of ground water by a growing
population and rapid economic development along the river," the
agency said.

China's ruling Communist Party, increasingly worried about
the environment costs of breakneck growth, has made water and
energy conservation a priority of its just-begun five-year

The expansion of thirsty industries such as paper and
cement has strained water supplies to the limit in a country
that only has one fourth as much water, per head of its
population, as the world average.

An estimated 300 million people nationwide have no access
to clean water, 70 percent of China's water is contaminated and
in the past 50 years year it has lost more than 1,000 lakes.