Three-Pronged Approach Key to Combating Drought Menace in People's Republic of China

BEIJING, PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA – To cope with increasingly frequent and severe droughts, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) needs to do more than respond to these disasters—the country must reduce and manage the risks that are causing them, according to Drying Up, a new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Increasing demand for water poses the greatest risk to sustainable water resources, which are critical in times of drought. Over extraction and inefficient use of water resource is creating regular water shortages in cities and putting large populations at risk when a drought occurs.

“The country’s traditional approach of building more infrastructure is not enough to fill the widening gap between water supply and demand,” said Qingfeng Zhang, ADB’s Lead Water Resources Specialist and one of the authors of the report. “An integrated water resources management approach is needed to bring balance and prepare safety net supplies for droughts.”

Despite efforts to reduce water use, PRC has suffered increasingly frequent and intense droughts. Between 2001 and 2006, over 400 cities in the PRC suffered perennial water shortages and 11 suffered severe water shortages. The 2011 drought which affected the Yangtze River left 3.5 million people with minimal drinking water. The 2009 drought affected 60 million people and compromised 6.5 million hectares of land. Between 2004 and 2007, droughts cost the PRC an estimated $8 billion of annual direct economic losses.

There is no way to prevent natural hazards like droughts and floods but there are ways to lessen the losses and damages. Most local governments, however, are missing opportunities to protect against the impacts of these natural hazards.

Drying Up proposes a three-pronged approach for reducing the impacts from drought. First, the PRC should strengthen its disaster preparedness, including risk monitoring and early warning systems, to reduce response time and costs incurred by losses, damages and rebuilding. Second, the report suggests the country manage demand through water savings, building better capture and storage facilities, re-evaluating tariffs, and boosting water efficiencies in agriculture, industry, and cities. Third, the report recommends an integrated approach to water management at the municipal level based on water allocation schemes and monitoring that ensure nature, people, and the economy have secure supplies.

Using a case study of Guiyang in Guizhou province, where severe drought in 2010 left 725,000 people without drinking water and 170,000 needing grain rations to survive, the report demonstrates the economic, ecological benefits from improved demand management. For example, if Guiyang had required water saving fixtures in all residential and commercial buildings, higher industrial water efficiency standards and reduced system leakage, Guiyang municipality would have had 20% more water during the drought.

Demand management alongside a system that monitors flows and water allocation can propel the country to greater resilience, the report notes. This would significantly close the supply-demand gap, which cannot be done by infrastructure alone.