A Populous Country Short on Water

Language Mandarin
September 15, 2011 7 p.m. local time

© 2009 WikiCommons/Jakub Hałun cc by sa 3.0

Rich with history stretching back centuries, Beijing is the political capital and cultural center of the People’s Republic of China. With nearly 20 million people living within the city limits, Beijing is also one of the world’s most populous cities. This isn’t too surprising since China is the world’s most populous nation, with more than 20% of the world’s population currently living in the country.

Unfortunately for China, the country only contains 7% of the world’s water resources. Because of climate change and population growth, two-thirds of the country already faces water shortages. Even more striking: By one estimate there may be as many as 30 million environmental refugees in China by 2020 as a result of water stress.

With warming temperatures and declining rainfall, water levels in Beijing’s primary reservoir are falling, and severe drought conditions in the northern parts of China are creating major challenges for the world’s largest wheat producer and consumer.

© 2009 Flickr/alex_and_stacy cc by 2.0

The lack of water in the northern region is in contrast to the southern region of China, where provinces have experienced a number of record weather events over the past few years. In 2007, the Guangdong Province in southern China experienced record rainfall, and in 2008, southern provinces experienced three weeks of unusual snowfall and icing, which affected 100 million people and caused 60 deaths. It is not over. The southern provinces are projected to see more extreme flooding and other weather events throughout the next century.

Perhaps the most dramatic effect of climate change in China has been the expansion of the Gobi Desert, which grew more than 20,000 square miles between 1994 and 1999 alone. Today, it has advanced to within 150 miles of Beijing.


Ann Wang is the founder of IMPACT, a Chinese social enterprise dedicated to promoting sustainable ways of living. Originally from Zhuzhou in Hunan Province, she is also the Business Development Director of P1.CN, a networking service in China that caters to the new generation of globalized Chinese who want to keep up with their contacts worldwide. In addition, she has worked on strategic planning at the nonprofit Golden Bridges, which is dedicated to advancing civil society organizations in China. She has worked on marketing, event management and corporate social responsibility, and has served as head of Membership and PR at Quintessentially in China, a concierge service group.