BEIJING (AFP) — A province in north China that supplies Beijing with much needed water is itself facing serious shortages of the resource, state media reported ahead of World Water Day on Sunday.
Li Qinglin, director of Hebei's water conservation department, said water shortages had become a big problem for the province's social and economic development, the official Xinhua news agency reported late Saturday.
"Water resources in Hebei have dwindled by nearly 50 percent in recent years," Li was quoted as saying.
Hebei, part of China's parched north, is one of the major suppliers of water to neighbouring Beijing and Tianjin -- two sprawling cities that together group at least 28 million people and are running out of the resource.
China's rapid economic expansion has helped deplete its water supplies and has long been one of the country's major concerns.
Probe International, a leading development policy group, has warned that the city of Beijing faces economic collapse and will need to resettle part of its population in coming decades, as it could run out of water in five to 10 years.
According to previous Xinhua reports, Beijing and the surrounding region, including most of Hebei, has suffered droughts every year since 1999.
Li said that Hebei was consuming around 21 billion cubic metres (735 billion cubic feet) of water annually with only 17 billion cubic metres of surface water, leaving groundwater to supply the rest, according to Xinhua.
He urged the government to take steps to reduce water consumption for the sake of sustainable economic and social development.
China is in the process of building the multi-billion dollar North-South Water Diversion Project to bring water from the nation's longest river, the Yangtze, to the parched north.
Xinhua has said that by 2010, when a lot of the north-south water diversion project is completed, up to one billion cubic metres of water will be diverted to Beijing annually, mostly from the Yangtze.
World Water Day has been held every year on March 22 since 1993 as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater.