Air pollution is a fact of life in cities such as Beijing, where many people wear breathing masks when travelling outdoors to guard against “PM2.5 particles” – tiny pollutants that can go deep into the lungs and cause cancer, bronchitis and asthma.
This month, a hundred years after the completion of the Panama Canal, China is expected to finish the first phase of its gigantic South-North Water Transfer Project, known in Chinese as Nanshui beidiao gongcheng — literally, “to divert southern water north.” The phrase evokes the suggestion, attributed to Mao, that “since the south has a great deal of water, and the north very little, we should borrow some of it.”
In realizing Mao’s dream of moving huge quantities of water from areas of plenty to those of want, Beijing is building a modern marvel, this century’s equivalent of the Panama Canal. But whereas the canal inaugurated a century of faith in the ability of human ingenuity to reshape the natural world, the South-North Water Transfer Project is a testament to the limits of engineering solutions to problems of basic environmental scarcity.
China is one of the most water-rich countries in the world. But as Mao observed, its water resources are unevenly distributed and overwhelmingly concentrated in the south and far west. Water scarcity has always been a problem for northern China, but shortages have reached crisis levels as a result of rapid economic development.
For most of the 1990s, northern China’s major river, the Yellow, failed to reach the sea, and the water tables around Beijing and other major northern cities have dropped so low that existing wells cannot tap them. In response, the government has tried to promote water conservation and limit water use. But these measures have had little impact, and there simply isn’t enough water to satisfy growing demands for drinking water, irrigation, energy production and other uses.
Rather than face the political challenge of allocating water resources among these competing interests, Beijing has placed its faith in monumental feats of engineering to slake the north’s growing thirst. The South-North Water Transfer eventually aims to pipe 45 cubic kilometers of water annually northward along three routes in eastern, central and western China. All three pose enormous technical challenges: The eastern and central routes will be channeled under the Yellow River, while the western route entails pumping water over part of the Himalayan mountain range.
The estimated cost of $65 billion is almost certainly too low, and doesn’t include social and ecological impacts. Construction has already displaced hundreds of thousands, and issues the like possible increases in transmission of water-borne diseases have not been properly studied. But Beijing’s calculus is political: It is easier to increase the quantity of water resources, at whatever cost, rather than allocate a limited supply between competing interests.
For an authoritarian regime with weak institutions of governance, this reluctance is understandable. But it also puts China’s economic and ecological future at risk, because Beijing cannot keep increasing supplies of water indefinitely. Already, the southern regions slated to pump water northward are facing water shortages themselves. In the long run, warming in the Himalayas is likely to reduce the flow of China’s major rivers, increasing water scarcity throughout the country.
Further feats of engineering can help China manage some of these impacts, but will not solve the underlying problem of water scarcity. Doing so requires contentious reallocations of water, including by dramatically increasing the cost of water for farmers — something the Communist Party is loath to do.
Ultimately, China needs significant political reform to meet the challenge of water scarcity. In order to make difficult decisions about who gets how much water, the country needs robust, transparent and participatory decision-making mechanisms. Moreover, in order to make policy ideas like water-rights reform work, the legal system and the rule of law must be strengthened. Finally, Beijing needs to stop relying on technology to avoid making hard choices about scarce resources. The United States and the rest of the world need to push the Chinese government to make its development more sustainable through political reform, lest China’s economy and social stability be endangered.
The architects of the Panama Canal overcame the inconvenient separation of two oceans by a narrow strip of land with a gigantic feat of engineering. But solving the problem of water scarcity in China is not so simple. Beijing will find that simply adjusting the supply of water, or of any other critical resource, is not enough: At some point it has to decide who gets how much. And that is a process that, without dramatic reform, is likely to leave the party high and dry.
Illegal buildings and land use are major problems in the suburbs, and the campaign will focuson structures built on collectively owned land in old towns and high-end communities, saidWang Wei, deputy director of the city’s urban planning commission.
The government will spend a month curbing growth of illegal construction or land use and thenmake a list of illegal buildings.
From May to July next year, the city will gradually demolish those buildings, Wang said.
Wang Anshun, mayor of Beijing, said government departments and State-owned enterprisesshould take a leading role in demolishing illegal buildings owned by their branches.
To improve water quality from 2013 to 2015, the capital will set up 47 recycled-water plants andupgrade 20 sewage disposal plants, Beijing Water Authority said in a statement.
About 1,290 km of pipeline will be laid or upgraded for sewage disposal, the statement said.
According to the three-year plan released, Beijing will also build five garbage incinerationplants by the end of 2015 to ensure more than 70 percent of the city’s waste can be destroyedby burning.
The city already has two incineration plants. It can incinerate 16,900 metric tons a day, and thenumber will increase to 24,000 tons.
The sewage treatment, garbage incineration and forestry development will cost 100 billion yuan($16.09 billion), said Mayor Wang Anshun.
He said the huge investment called for the reform of the market, which means that thegovernment should lift restrictions and let the private sector participate in the investment.
Fang Li, deputy director of Beijing’s environmental protection bureau, said the government willcontinue to take measures to cut emissions for air quality improvement this year.
The city will continue to control vehicle emissions using the policy that restricts private carsfrom being driven one day a week, based on the final digit of the car license plate, he said onThursday.
Meanwhile, it may consider launching the policy in particular areas and periods to control thenumber of cars on road.
When the air quality is poor, the city will set up an emergency headquarters to resolve theproblem, according to a government statement.
The thousands of pig carcasses dumped in a river are a symptom of the rush to satisfy the demand for meat. The Guardian reports
Over the last fortnight, more than 16,000 dead pigs have been recovered from tributaries of the Huangpu, the river that arcs through Shanghai. Mottled and swollen, adult hogs and piglets were first spotted upstream in Henglaojing creek, their bellies forming pearlescent domes among the river debris. Finding a dead hog in this creek isn’t an anomaly. Farmers have been using the waterways as a dumping ground for deceased stock for decades, residents say. It is the numbers that the locals find shocking.
What worries Shanghai residents is that the waterway supplies more than 20% of the city’s tap water. Early tests revealed the pigs carry porcine circovirus, which isn’t infectious to humans, and the water was ruled safe. Though there has been no official explanation for their appearance, tags in the pigs’ ears trace them to Jiaxing in the neighbouring Zhejiang province. Jiaxing is an area where the pork industry flourishes and where 70,000 pigs died this year because of extreme weather conditions and “crude raising techniques”, according to state media.
Citizens have responded with outrage to the Henglaojing incident. “That thousands of dead pigs were dumped in the Huangpu secretly isn’t news”, said Li Mingsheng, a well-known writer, on his weibo (microblog) account. “It’s also not news that 20 million Shanghai residents have drunk dead pig broth for half a month. What’s news is that the Shanghai water bureau claims the Huangpu’s water meets health standards.” Others responded more humorously. In one joke spread through weibo, a Beijing resident boasts that he just has to open the window to have free cigarettes. A Shanghai resident retorts: “That’s nothing, we turn on our taps and have pork chop soup.”
My reaction is more despondent. I visited Zhejiang late last year to report on the booming factory-farm industry, interviewing a young man whose local eco system has been decimated by the arrival of a factory farm. A dead pig in a river is gripping, sensationalist, macabre. But it hints at a deeper crisis: the impact the burgeoning meat industry in the developing world is having on the planet.
As the world’s population expands, incomes rise – and we eat more meat. In 1999, annual meat production worldwide was around 218m tonnes. By 2030 it is projected to be 376m, according to the World Health Organisation. To accommodate the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, we need to eat a quarter of the meat we do now.
Tell that to the Chinese, who are particularly fond of pork. Mao’s favourite dish was hongshao rou, a fatty braised pork belly. The country produces and consumes half the world’s pork, around 50m tonnes in 2011. The average person eats four times what they ate in 1980, but a third less than the average Briton.
To satiate rising meaty appetites, animal husbandry is in a state of rapid change. Backyard pigpens, the method by which Chinese people raised hogs for centuries, are being replaced with Cafos (concentrated feeding animal operations), copycats of the American versions, which the Chinese government is subsidising heavily. A Cafo is likely to be where the hogs in the Henglaojing waters came from. Jiaxing accounts for a quarter of the pigs raised in Zhejiang province, around 4.5m each year.
A downside of the Cafo system is that it’s inefficient. The amount of grain – usually soy – that it takes to feed so many animals renders the energy ratio from crop to pork at 4:1 (beef is 7:1). They are also breeding grounds for viruses – such as porcine circovirus as seen in the Henglaojing pigs, but also foot-and-mouth disease and hog cholera. More worrying for humans is that the use of antibiotics in Cafos is linked to the development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The proper disposal of diseased animals should be a global concern.
From the “hogwash” incident, the Chinese government should take stock. It must move swiftly to regulate Cafos, particularly the smaller holdings that have grown haphazardly and without sufficient checks. The farmers involved in this incident made the unwise decision to dump the carcasses rather than burn them (which is more expensive), but why hadn’t the local government stopped similar behaviour before? At least the hogs weren’t sold. In October, a court in Jiaxing heard a case in which 77,000 tonnes of dead pigs had been illegally processed and sold as meat to locals. The defendants made 8.6m yuan (£900,000) from the deals.
Chinese friends and acquaintances are initially bemused by my vegetarianism. Despite the country’s rich Buddhist tradition, they think it’s a quaint, foreign quirk. Something hardwired into the nation’s psyche is the association of meat with progress. I find it difficult to explain to people who had one of the world’s deadliest famines in living memory that I think people today eat too much meat for the good of the planet and themselves. When I was a child, I ate it every day.
BEIJING — Pork buns and tap water may be off the menu in Shanghai, China’s biggest city with more than 23 million people, after thousands of dead pigs were found floating in the Huangpu River, which flows through the city, and in upstream tributaries. About 6,000 animals have been fished out so far in an operation that began last Friday, according to the Shanghai authorities, with more still surfacing, though at a slower pace. From International Herald Tribune
The questions around the pig die-off — what caused it, why the animals were thrown into the river and by whom — are deeply disturbing Shanghai residents as well as others in China, and the Ministry of Agriculture has announced an investigation. City water authorities say the drinking water sourced in the Huangpu is safe, though one water sample showed traces of porcine circovirus, Xinhua, the state news agency reported, adding it can spread among pigs but not humans.
China is regularly plagued by food safety and environmental scandals, but even so, the appearance of thousands of large, decomposing pigs in the river that feeds the country’s most sophisticated metropolis stands out.
China/ReutersDead pigs are put into a pit in Zhulin village near Jiaxing in Zhejiang province. Workers removing the dead animals, left by breeders on roadsides, said they are carrying away more than 200 pigs a day.
The village, in Xinfeng county, has pens for dead pigs but they’re full, the report said, quoting pig farmers and disposers in the village. Suspicions are growing that a recent crackdown by the police on the sale of pigs that have died from disease but are being illegally sold into the human food chain may be contributing to the problem, as people dump the animals in the river instead.
“In the second half of last year, the Jiaxing police investigated 12 cases across provinces of illegal buying, selling and slaughtering of ‘disease dead pigs,’ worth over a million renminbi,” the report said.
Pork, known here as “big meat,” is a favorite food in China, but pig farmers say they struggle to make enough money from the business. Farmers have in the past sold dead, diseased pigs “to make a little money,” the report quoted a farmer identified as Hong Wei as saying.
A 100-kilogram, or about 220-pound, pig sells for only about 600 renminbi, according to the article, while feed costs alone total at least 150 renminbi, farmers said. Local pig dealers have proposed that local authorities pay a small fee to farmers to recover dead pigs and help curb the illegal trade, suggesting 10 renminbi, the report said.