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Independent Groups Warn Olympics Exacerbating Beijing's Water Crisis

Chinese environmental activists are warning that the August Olympics are putting pressure on and will further exacerbate Beijing's already severe water shortage. They worked with the Canadian public interest research group Probe International, and issued a report Friday called "Beijing's Water Crisis." Stephanie Ho has more on the story.

Dai Qing is one of China's best known environmental activists. She edited the Chinese-language version of the Probe International report, which was then translated into English.

Dai gives a drastic assessment of what will happen to her hometown if the government's current water policies continue.

"Beijing will totally disappear," she said. "We don't have the ancient capital Beijing, we don't have, (like right now) the ugly modern Beijing, we don't have it. Because right now, the basic reason is the political system. No one take care, no one takes responsibility for this city."

Beijing city planners estimate that the city's demand for water is more than five billion cubic meters per year, which leaves a deficit of more than one billion cubic meters.

Probe International's Grainne Ryder says the Chinese government so far has only addressed the issue of supply, through tapping into ground water and diverting water from southern parts of the country.

At the same time, she points to the Olympics as one of the main drivers of increased demand for the scarce resource.

"The crisis doesn't begin and doesn't end with the Olympics," she noted. "What the Olympics has done, however, has accelerated an approach to supply expansion, that is not sustainable, that's costly and that will only drive more wasteful or profligate consumption."

During the Olympics, Beijing will entertain visitors with huge "water landscapes," in several locations around town, featuring tall fountains with light and music. The Olympic village will be supplied with water from a man-made lake filled with water from a nearby river. And authorities are filling in the dried-out Chaobai River with polluted water from another river, near the Shunyi Olympic Aquatic Park, which will host some of the water sports.

The report makes several recommendations, including urging the Chinese government to use laws and economic incentives to reduce demand.

Other recommendations include enforcing existing laws, raising water prices to reflect the full-cost of the resource, establishing an overall regulator for the water industry, and assigning tradable water rights to manage competing water demands.

The team of Chinese researchers who worked on the report requested anonymity. Editor Dai Qing says many issues of water supply in China are still top secret, and that one of the main things the report calls for is greater transparency and greater openness about water issues.

Jiang Wenlai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, is quoted by the French News Agency (AFP) as saying some of the report's warnings are exaggerated. But he acknowledges that China does have to do more about its water shortage."