Desertification in China

Desertification in China. Image by Benoit Aquin.

Today, some additional facts about water, or its absence. As an opening frame of reference, it takes 150 gallons of water to make a loaf of our daily bread.

The North China Plain is a desert, some of which is natural but much of which is man made. Herders and farmers in this region have managed to turn more than 110,000 square kilometers here into desert since 1950. During one dust storm in 2006 (there were 17 that year) 300,000 tons of dust were deposited in Beijing in one night. Often the dust from this desert reaches the west coast of North America.

Desertification in China. Image by Benoit Aquin.

Beneath the North China Plain is a shallow aquifer. The water there is more than 1,000 feet deep, and it’s sufficiently depleted that irrigation is no longer economically viable for agriculture.

China dust

A dust storm in China. Image by Benoit Aquin.

Nearer to Beijing, wells are often drilled more than half a mile to find water. Water use there is expected to surge 30% this summer because of the Olympics. As a result, farmers in the region have been instructed to grow corn rather than rice – corn requires less water.

In China’s Qinhai Province there were once 4,077 lakes. In the last 20 years, more than 2,000 have disappeared. In Hebei Province, surrounding Beijing, 969 of the regions 1,052 lakes are now gone. And in Africa, Lake Chad, once a landmark for astronauts in space, is just about gone.

Lake Chad

Lake Chad, in 1972, and 15 years later in 1987. Almost gone.

And the water situation is even worse in India. Here ends today’s lesson.

China dust

Dust, China. Image by Benoit Aquin.

Footnote: Go out and buy this book immediately: “Plan B 3.0, Mobilizing to Save Civilization,” by Dr. Lester Brown, published by Norton Press. It will scare the daylights out of you, but it offers some hope.

8 thoughts on “Waterless

  1. I remember when Daddy was Mayor and went to some meetings and returned saying, very very seriously (about in 1968) “There will be two problems in the 21st century: water and garbage.”

  2. Amanda, Lake Chad today is one twentieth the size it was in 1972, and the Lake continues to shrink. There is a major effort underway to save the Lake, through new plantings and other management techniques, but as those who rely on the Lake tell us, it is a war with the desert, and with the effects of global warming.

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