Water Margins: Competing Paradigms in China
A global water crisis is widely predicted to occur in this century. China is both water-poor - in per capita terms one of the world's twelve most deprived (and increasingly water-polluted) countries - and, at the same time, also water-rich. This "blue gold" wealth makes China a potential water-power of "Saudi-Arabia" dimensions. While China's potential remains largely undeveloped, the country faces growing water pressures: highly uneven distribution between North and South, urbanization, population increase, degradation of the environment, and rapidly rising demands for energy, irrigation, and town water. The Three Gorges Dam project is the largest hydro-development project in the world and possibly the largest civil engineering project in history. This paper looks at less well-known development projects for the major rivers of China's South and Southwest including the Lancang (Mekong) and the Upper Yangzi. It also discusses the plans for a "Cascade" of dams on the Lancang, which will have a significant impact on Southeast Mekong riparian countries, plans to "transfer" water from the Yangzi to the North China plain, and the idea of a global "super dam" in the Tibetan Himalayas. The paper argues that the Chinese government favors the "modern" paradigm of water engineering at a time when that paradigm is being abandoned in the developed world in favor of safer, more economical, and more sustainable options.