China Is So Bad at Conservation That It Had to Launch the Most Impressive Water-Pipeline Project Ever - Quartz
China’s political leaders are mostly engineers by training. So it’s no surprise that they have initiated the world’s most expensive and ambitious water transport system to “borrow” water from the southern half of the nation to bring it to the more arid north.
Not coincidentally, the capital, Beijing, lies in the arid north, and it already suffers from a serious water shortage.
The massive project, still underway, has displaced hundreds of thousands of farmers, diverted water from smaller cities and industries that say they need water, too,, and promises even more chances for government corruption.
Beijing’s leaders can get away with starting such an incredible national project, because they wield a lot of power.
But this massive display of power—some might say hubris—is also a sign of weakness. One reason why China’s water crisis is so dire is that the central government hasn’t been able to coordinate national efforts to conserve water. Local environmental bureaus are often weak. Companies fined for breaking pollution rules often ignore the fines or renegotiate them with local officials. Local officials have been loath to raise water prices, despite Beijing’s requests, because of the backlash they might face from residents, or their relationships with local businesses. “Beijing can only get localities to do a certain number of things,” says Kenneth Pomeranz, an environmental historian at the University of Chicago. Water conservation hasn’t traditionally been one of them. “It shows both the strength of the center and its limitations.”
It’s a long piece, but worth the time to read. A second part examines the plight of the farmers displaced by the water projects.