To combat severe drought, China turns to technology

“You could actually exacerbate the drought situation,” says Gabriel Collins of the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Texas, arguing that excessive water transfers in the future could see two large swaths of the country become become prone to seasonal water shortages, instead of just one. .

He adds that while other technologies, such as desalination, may seem tempting, they are hugely expensive and would likely be restricted to highly industrialized coastal areas where demand makes them economically viable.

Collins recently co-authored a paper on China’s long-standing water shortage problems with Gopal Reddy, founder of Ready for Climate, an environmental research organization. “To me, the structural problem is much scarier than this season’s drought,” says Reddy, noting that China has limited reserves of usable groundwater, which can sometimes be tapped for drought relief, and that they are already overexploited. , particularly in the north. from the country.

Groundwater reserves are “the lender of last resort”, says Nathan Forsythe of Newcastle University in the UK, because they take the longest to replenish once depleted. They depend on rainwater that seeps deep into the ground; most of the rain simply evaporates or washes away.

But filling reserves is, in principle, a good way to plan ahead for drought. China has great capacity in this area and could be building reservoirs to retain more rainwater for farms, or planting vegetation that is good at retaining moisture. For thousands of years, small farmers in China have been using ponds to keep water in its place, according to reports. Expanding the use of such interventions could also help.

See also  Global Science and Technology Clusters of the Global Innovation Index: East Asia dominates the top ranking

One of the most serious effects of this year’s drought is its impact on crops. Photos of sun-scorched fields littered with dead fruit and vegetables have already emerged. But China more or less leads the world in attempts to develop drought-resistant crops, argues Rebecca Nadin of the Overseas Development Institute, a global affairs think tank. This may soon extend to the genetic engineering of wheat and rice. China also recently approved the use of drought-resistant soybeans marketed by Argentine firm Bioceres.

All of these interventions may go some way to improving China’s chances in the battle against drought. But the threat of drier conditions, driven by climate change, is a threat, says Aiguo Dai of the State University of New York at Albany. Some areas of China, particularly those in the north, may experience more precipitation in the coming years. But if the general trend leads to hotter, drier conditions in places that can’t quickly adapt to water scarcity, things will get very difficult.

Forsythe points out that the most immediate thing any country can do in response to drought is to reduce demand and ensure that water is not wasted. But in a country of 1.4 billion people, where factories work day and night to produce products that are shipped around the world, there are clearly limits to how far those brakes can be applied. Recent and relatively brief power outages caused by a lack of hydropower alone are estimated to have left around 1 million electric vehicles and 400,000 charging stations without power, for example.

See also  Astronomer Plans $1.5M Expedition to Retrieve Possible Alien Tech in the Ocean

Water scarcity is becoming a problem that we will all face, to some extent. But the Chinese authorities must be well aware of the extent to which the drought threatens the country’s ambitions. The “greatest risk” to China’s preeminence as the leading superpower of this century is probably its “environmental vulnerability,” Forsythe says. “Managing their natural capital would certainly be in their interest.”

Leave a Comment