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    Reporters Without Borders said in it’s 2005 special report titled “Xinhua: the world’s biggest propaganda agency”, that “Xinhua remains the voice of the sole party”, “particularly during the SARS epidemic, Xinhua has for last few months been putting out news reports embarrassing to the government, but they are designed to fool the international community, since they are not published in Chinese.”
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Drought in North China: 3% Water in a Reservoir Serving Beijing

Posted by Author on June 18, 2007

by Robert J. Saiget, AFP, published on france24.com, 18/06/2007 –

A rare forest fire on the outskirts of Beijing has renewed concerns about the capital’s crippling water shortages as an enduring drought deepens and temperatures hit record highs.

The fire swept through a stand of pine trees in western Beijing early last month during the hottest May in northern China in decades, torching a forest that was planted to restore green to the city’s dry barren mountains.

“We had no water here to fight the fire, we haven’t had any rain all year so the whole forest was dry,” said a worker surnamed Lin at the Malan forest plantation in Beijing’s Mentougou district.

“The authorities called in more than 1,000 soldiers who used fire extinguishers and fire retardant bombs to control the blaze.

“We were lucky the winds were blowing in the right direction, otherwise it would have destroyed more forest.”

The blaze occurred only several kilometres (miles) from the dry bed of a major tributary to Beijing’s Yongding river, which has itself been reduced to a trickle as it descends from the nearly empty Guanting reservoir, a major supplier of water to the capital.

Northern China has been fighting a drought that has lasted nearly 10 years, sapping rivers of water and leaving reservoirs at near record lows.

Water volume in the Guanting reservoir is only about three percent of its 4.2-billion-cubic-metre (147-billion-cubic-feet) capacity, according to Zhang Junfeng, a water expert with the Green Earth Volunteers environmental group.

Zhang blames the building of reservoirs upstream, but more importantly global warming and a lack of rainfall.

Chinese authorities have also acknowledged in recent months that global warming is at least partly to blame for the unusually high temperatures to have hit northern China.

Three smaller reservoirs sit along a 100-kilometre (60-mile) stretch of the parched Yongding river below the Guanting resevoir as locals save up the precious resource for irrigation and industrial use.

The lowest reservoir sits outside the gates of the Capital Iron and Steel Corporation in western Beijing, one of China’s biggest steel makers, a major water user and one of the capital’s top polluters.

Below the factory, the Yongding river no longer exists, leaving the famed Marco Polo Bridge, visited by the renowned Italian explorer nearly 800 years ago, spanning a dry, dusty track.

“Everyone around here is saving water. We have to,” said Zhang Zhongmin, a broccoli farmer near Guanting reservoir.

“The water levels in Guanting reservoir have been falling for years and the price of water is also increasing. We now are competing with new housing projects for water,” he said pointing at a nearby block of luxury apartments overlooking the reservoir.

Due to Beijing’s demand for water, Zhang’s patch of farmland is irrigated by water from a well, which he said is being drilled deeper and deeper every year as farmers tap into underground water resources.

“Beijing farmers are digging wells between 600 and 700 metres (1,980 to 2,310 feet) deep, some go as deep as 1,000 metres,” said environmentalist Zhang.

“This is an incredible depth and it means that the water tables are falling. The wells have only been going this deep in the last 10 years or so, before they rarely surpassed 300 metres.”

According to the government, annual per capita fresh water availability in Beijing is only 300 cubic metres, or one-eighth the national average and one-30th the world rate.

Beijing authorities have been long aware of the capital’s water shortage problem and in 2001 a massive water diversion project was approved to haul water from the Yangzte river in the south to the arid north.

Despite widespread concerns over the cost and environmental impact, the project was approved largely due to the dire need to maintain supplies for the capital’s 15 million residents.

The 5.3 billion-dollar first phase of the project is expected to bring up to 13 billion cubic metres of water from China’s longest river to Beijing and the neighbouring city of Tianjin by 2010.

If the second and third phases are built, the drought hit northern provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi and Gansu as well as Beijing and Tianjin could expect nearly 44 billion cubic metres of water to be pumped up each year by 2050.

This amounts to nearly the entire annual flow of the Yellow river, China’s second biggest.

– original report from North China drought highlights need for water diversion scheme

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