China On The Verge Of A Major Food Crisis, Part 2: Water
By Eric Mertz of the General Crisis Watch Substack,
Before I started I wanted to address my last post. I wrote it a little too hastily due to a sick daughter and I plan to go back and clean it up somewhat. The political infighting aspect will be trimmed down as I plan to discuss that more in Part 3, with only the parts directly addressing the food issue being kept in.
China has also started taking efforts to address some of these issues and I want to address what they’re doing. I fully admit to having an axe to grind when it comes to the CCP, but I want to make sure I’m as intellectually honest as possible. This includes giving them credit on the rare instances they manage to do something smart.
The fact these plans will wind up making it worse is just icing on the cake.
I also want to reformat it according to the template I plan to use going forward.
I’ll also be doing a Part 0 for this series which will include a table of contents for all of the posts in this series, and which will provide an overview of the relevant portions of Chinese history with a special focus on the Confucian concept of the Mandate of Heaven and its removal.
I hope to get that done tomorrow evening, but can’t guarantee that will occur.
Water, water everywhere but all of it polluted
In order to understand the grave danger China is facing, we need to understand water usage and thresholds below which the population begins to face some level of danger. For that, we’re going to turn to Reuters for an overview.
At a minimum, a civilization requires 1,700 cubic meters of water per person per year to be considered water secure. This amounts to 373,947 gallons of water per person, with a minimum of 4,156 gallons of water per year to ensure good health.
Freshwater is used for everything from industry to agriculture to power generation, and our infrastructure is rated for a minimum level of water moving through the pipes. If that water falls below that level, pressure drops and the water can become unsafe.
This starts to become a problem at 1,000 cubic meters per person per year, and reaches a threat level at 500 cubic meters per person per year.
Beijing is currently sitting at 100 cubic meters of fresh water per person per year. Barely seven times the necessary minimum for a person to remain healthy, with the rest stretched thin and endlessly recycled as it eventually becomes useless for any purpose which brings it into contact with humans in any way.
When examining the water situation in a given country, the first place to look is always the groundwater situation. Which, in China’s case, isn’t very positive.
Over 80% of the groundwater in China is unsafe, according to publicly available data attained from a Chinese government survey. Information which is normally a closely held secret. Same with the fact that 47% of the groundwater in China is so badly polluted it can’t even be used for industrial purposes.
Note, Beijing gets almost a third of their water from groundwater sources, which must be thoroughly treated at massive cost in man-hours, materials, and energy before it can be used by the general public. This has resulted in Beijing sinking at a rate of 11 cm per year as the depleted aquifer results in subsidence.
Assuming its even at a level which can be affordably treated. Which 47% of the groundwater can’t be.
This situation is even worse in the cities, where 90% of the groundwater is unusable for purposes which would bring it into contact with people. And, ironically, although the groundwater pollution is worse in the cities, rural areas are more heavily affected due to the fact most rural communities lack the resources to treat either the water they take in for normal usage or the waste water they release back into the wild.
China has tried to fix the problems with the aquifer depletion issue by turning its cities into what are known as “sponge cities”. Designed to channel water underground into the aquifer as a flood management project, these sponge cities are intended to serve a dual purpose. Its a brilliant idea in theory, but the project involves lots of spending on infrastructure which is underground and impossible to see.
Which has resulted in the city officials wasting that money on beautification projects instead.
Turning to the rivers, we find the situation is only slightly better. While the groundwater is contaminated at a rate of 80-90%, the surface water – that is both lakes and rivers – is only polluted at a rate of 70%.
Similarly to the groundwater, half of it is unusable for any human application. This includes agriculture, industrial use, fishing, or even boating. This is because 225 billion tons of industrial sewage is dumped into Chinese rivers and lakes on an annual basis.
This has had rather predictable results in the form of what are known as “cancer villages”. At least 400 villages, mostly in the Yangtze river basin, were given this designation before the CCP realized the mistake they made and withdrew the classification. In these locations, cancer rates are 169% higher than in surrounding communities, with mortality rates 80% higher due to the aggressive nature of the cancers and the lack of access to healthcare in rural China.
As a side note, these cancers trend heavily towards esophageal and lung cancer. Combined with the reduced lung capacity from the horrific levels of air pollution, its entirely plausible this – combined with the fact the government was hiding the spread of its disease and its symptoms – is why we saw people keeling over dead on the street due to COVID in China while not seeing it in the West.
Water Shortages in the North
South North Water Transfer Project
Now, if you’ve seen those videos of the roaring floods which race down the Yangtze and wipe away villages every spring, the idea that China may have a water shortage may seem incredible. The problem is these floods are highly centralized in the south and are a result of China’s rainy season – which only lasts for a few months in spring and autumn. Even during the relatively dry periods, however, 80% of the water in China is located in the Yangtze basin.
This is great news for the people in the Yangtze, who don’t generally need to worry about quantity – even if they have to worry about quality – but it leaves the much more heavily populated north with only 20% of the water to provide for close to 70% of the population.
Back when Mao was still China’s unquestioned dictator, he liked to joke about borrowing water from the south to give it to the population in the north. In 2002, the CCP began construction on the South North Water Transfer Project, a series of three canals which are intended to transfer 44.8 billion cubic meters of water from the over-watered south to the dry north every year. It has already cost China $62 Billion for the first two routes – with an additional $15 Billion expected to be spent on the third route.
The three routes are expected to transport 14.8 billion cubic meters on the east route, which consists of an upgrade of the Grand Canal, moving water from the Yangtze to Beijing, 13 billion cubic meters on the central route from the Danjiangkou Reservoir on the Han River into Beijing, and 17 billion cubic meters on the western route, which will pull water from the Mekong, Brahmaputra, Salween, Yangtze and two other rivers into the north to be distributed as needed for agricultural projects.
Along the eastern route, 13 pumping stations had to be built to lift the water being transferred 14.8 billion cubic meters a total of 65 meters (213 feet) to climb over the continental divide.
Construction of the project displaced 330,000 people, and resulted in 400 of the rivers which both canals cross having disappeared outright. Someone in China has since started building cities and industrial parks in these extinct rivers. Which puts them directly in the path of the seasonal floods.
And the project has already failed.
According to data provided by the CCP, the North South Water Transfer Project is only capable of transporting a third of the rated capacity on the East and Central Routes.
To make matters worse, the water in the canals and aqueducts is reportedly sufficiently polluted as to be unusable. Which means the canal is actually making the problem worse as it pollutes previously clean water along the route. And when the flooding which inundated Zhengzhou and killed thousands in the underground expressway* in spring of 2021 threatened the integrity of the Central Route, the PLA destroyed other dams – flooding cities and villages throughout central China – in order to protect Beijing’s new water supply.
The reduced water flow in the Yangtze has also resulted in drastically reduced levels of sediment flowing along the river – which reduced the fertility of the cropland in the basin – and out into the sea. A decrease in sediment which was already effected by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. Case studies regarding the Russian River and its fisheries showed that decreased sediment outflow from rivers had a negative effect on the available fish which could be safely removed from the fisheries fed by the river.
However, the water problem in the north is already getting worse.
If you recall, in September of 2021, China blocked coal imports from their primary source of coal – Australia – over Australia recognizing what China was doing to both the Falun Gong and the Uyghurs as an act of genocide. This immediately resulted in rolling blackouts, which China responding by increasing coal mining in Inner Mongolia. Specifically, they demanded an additional output of 98.35 Million metric tons of new coal mining, which results in an additional 24 Million cubic meters of water becoming unavailable for the general public to use.
Thankfully, this is not coming from the rivers. Unfortunately that’s because 70% of the water used to produce coal comes from the aquifers. With 47% of the water in these aquifers being unusable, this is a new and tight squeeze on water availability in the north.
*Officially, only 250 people died in the flooding.
Finally, we have to discuss agriculture. As you know from reading the previous post, China is facing a massive agricultural shortfall due to a shortage of trucking – largely driven by COVID lockdown protocols – has seen the capacity of freight hauling in the rural areas being cut by 86%. This has primarily hit farmers as a third are unable to get the seeds and fertilizer they need to grow crops.
That fertilizer is desperately needed. 64% of arable land is located in the cool and dry northern half of the country, which means farmers must engage in dryland agriculture even before the increased demand for food. Traditional irrigation practices in the cooler and dryer north, which sees 500 milimeters of rain delivered over a two month period, involved flooding the fields with water and letting it dry – increasing the concentration of salts in the soils as the lack of follow-on water means the hotter soil will pull these salts to the surface of the fields just as harvest comes due.
This water is usually highly polluted with fertilizer, fungicide, and other chemicals used to ensure your food is as abundant as possible. These pollutants will flow from the fields into canals and streams, where they are filtered by the shellfish the local farmers use to supplement their diet and income.
However, these are not new problems. Each of the issues outlined above is one which has been known for years, and Chinese leadership have failed to solve them.
To understand why, we need to discard this myth we have of the CCP as some skilled chess player with a hundred-year vision. In reality, the CCP is as reactionary as any other government with an elected head of state – with the added problem of suffering from the trap so many dictators fall into regarding misinformation being filtered up to the chief executive by subordinates who do not want to lose their access to greater wealth and influence while also having to deal with the factional politics of an elected system.
Which is what the next part of this series will focus on.
In part three, we will dive into the hall of mirrors which is the factional infighting between Xi Jinping’s Tsinghua Clique and Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai Clique. Get your thumbtacks and strings ready folks. You’re going to need them.
Fri, 04/22/2022 – 21:40