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China's water at risk from coal projects

Aug. 14, 2012 at 12:28 PM   |   Comments

BEIJING, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- The 16 large-scale coal bases that China has planned will trigger severe water crises in the country's arid northwest, a new Greenpeace report warns.

China plans to construct the bases before 2015, as part of its latest 5-year plan, which runs through 2015.

If completed, the projects will consume at least 9.975 billion cubic meters of water, says the report "Thirsty Coal: A Water Crisis Exacerbated" commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

That's equivalent to about one-sixth of the yearly total water volume of China's Yellow River.

An earlier CAS report indicated that two-thirds of China's 669 cities have water shortages, more than 40 percent of its rivers are severely polluted and 80 percent of its lakes suffer from eutrophication, which is an overabundance of nutrients.

Furthermore, about 300 million rural residents lack access to safe drinking water.

While China's per capita availability of renewable water resources is about one-quarter of the world average, water consumption per unit of gross domestic product is three times the world average because of water-intensive industrial structure, outdated technologies, low reuse rate and wastefulness, the CAS report says.

The Greenpeace study says that water resources per capita and per unit area in the planned 16 areas are only one tenth of the national average.

"The truth is, in this part of the country, even a single drop of water is too precious to be squandered. China is basically trading water rights of millions for energy," Li Yan, Greenpeace East Asia Climate and Energy Campaign Manager, said in a statement.

Although China aims to increase its share of electricity generation from renewable sources, the country still relies on coal for about 70 percent of its energy needs.

Seven of the planned bases, which are situated in Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Ningxia, for example, are expected to have a total output of 2.2 billion tons of coal, contributing 56 percent of China's annual coal output for 2015, China's 5-year plan says.

"Two years into the 5-year plan, it's time to rethink the pros and cons of this westward coal expansion and acknowledge the profoundly painful heritage they will leave: huge carbon emissions, horrible air pollution, and now, a grim future for vast arid areas," Li said.

In the report, Greenpeace calls for the Chinese government "to immediately carry out a strict and robust water-demand assessment on China's coal power bases and their overall environment impact on the respective regions."

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