Water scarcity in Asia – the economies of China and India facing a growing deficit

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Water scarcity is becoming an increasingly pressing problem for two powerful Asian economies – China and India. Over the years, the problem is getting worse and more visible. Economists and academics unanimously warn that this situation could bring destabilization in both the economic and social spheres. Food production, industry and infrastructure development, without sufficient water resources, could be severely disrupted.

Water shortage, or rather how to prevent it, is becoming one of the key challenges. These two major economies are at the center of industrialization and rapid urbanization, and this in turn has a growing demand for water. Scientists warn that the production of steel, semiconductors or energy requires significant resources. Global demand for fresh water is expected to outstrip supply by 40% to 50% by 2030. Arunabha Ghosh, director general of the Council on Foreign Relations. The Climate Committee warns that insufficient resources is not a sectoral problem, but one that “transcends the entire economy.”

Water shortage – India and China on the front lines

Water scarcity is hitting India particularly hard. The world’s most populous country has a population of 1.425 billion, with an expected increase to 1.7 billion by 2050. The country’s population is experiencing dramatically low water availability, with supplies sufficient for only 4% of them. The ratio puts India among the world’s most shortage-stricken countries.

Since independence, annual per capita water availability has declined by 75% – up from 6,042m3 in 1947. to 1,486m3 in 2021. The country is facing not only groundwater depletion and surface water pollution, but also the disappearance of water bodies such as ponds, lakes and wetlands. More than half of India’s rivers are highly polluted, and many of the others are at levels considered dangerous by modern standards. The waters of the Yamuna, Ganges and Sabarmati contain a deadly mix of pollutants.

Water shortage

In addition, the country is dependent on the monsoon season, which is becoming increasingly unpredictable. India is facing increasingly intense weather extremes due to climate change, such as floods and droughts, which are exacerbating the water crisis.

China, the world’s second-largest economy, also faces an extremely difficult challenge. It turns out that 80% to 90% of groundwater has been classified as unfit for consumption, and half of the aquifers are contaminated, affecting industry and agriculture.

A key factor contributing to China’s water crisis is climate change. For centuries, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers were fed by water from melting glaciers. But global warming, which has raised the region’s temperature by 3-3.5°C over the past 50 years, has weakened the ability of these glaciers to supply water.

Greenpeace’s 2018 study. revealed that up to 82% of China’s glaciers have retreated since the 1950s. This has caused the water supply to the Yangtze River to decrease by 13.9% since the 1990s. In the 1970s.

The organization predicts that the water shortage situation will be critical when the glaciers reach “peak water levels,” that is, when demand exceeds availability, and this could happen as early as 2030.

In addition, changing precipitation patterns make it difficult for wet monsoons to reach China’s northern regions. Beijing, for example, experienced a record drought between October 2017 and February 2018. It lasted as long as 116 days, further increasing the water shortage.

The problem is further complicated by the uneven distribution of water resources in the country. Although 80% of the resources are in southern China, the north is more economically developed. As a result, regions such as Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, which have a combined population of about 130 million people, are suffering from a severe water shortage.

Inefficient economies and pollution are leaving many provinces in China unable to provide enough drinking water for their residents, not to mention the growing demands of urbanization.

Most affected sectors

Taiwan, Asia’s semiconductor manufacturing hub, has been hit again by water shortages, just two years after the worst drought of the last century. Semiconductor chip manufacturing and power plants require huge amounts of water. Shanshan Wang, a water business leader in Singapore who works for a water consulting firm. Sustainable Development Arup, stressed that Taiwan must balance between storing water for the semiconductor industry and releasing it for energy production. “Taiwan is a big user of hydropower and is always faced with the dilemma of whether to store it for industrial use or release it so we can have more hydropower,” Wang said.

Variable climatic conditions, such as droughts and floods, pose challenges for Taiwan, making the industry more vulnerable. Wang pointed out that although many industrial sectors need water, it can be recycled. In the face of the crisis, companies should think about using it more sustainably.

Water is crucial to the global energy transition. In 2022. China experienced extreme heat and drought, which affected energy production at Yangtze River hydropower plants. In response, coal-fired power increased. Beijing has approved 106 gigawatts of new coal capacity in 2022, four times more than a year earlier And the equivalent of 100 large power plants.

The water shortage experienced by the two Asian giants will get worse every year. The only way to counter such a self-perpetuating “snowball” is to shift to a sustainable, closed-loop economy and increase the share of green energy. Action is needed today, before the whole world experiences the effects of the problems in China and India.