Competing Paradigms in China
A global water crisis is widely predicted to occur
in this century. China is both water-poor
capita terms one of the world's twelve most deprived
(and increasingly water-polluted) countries
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.
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