|Long Distance Water Transfer: A Chinese Case Study and International Experiences (UNU, 1983)|
Water has always been considered an essential component for human survival. Without water, any form of life-animal or plant-is not possible. Thus, not surprisingly, the ancient Greeks postulated water as one of the four fundamental building blocks of nature. The importance of the role of water in the overall development process has been increasingly recognised during the last decade due to a variety of causes, some natural and others man-made. Firstly, severe droughts in many regions of the world during the early 1970s worsened the already critical food situation. Much was also written at that time about the changing rainfall regime of the world, which was alleged to have been responsible for the severe droughts in the Sudano-Sahelian region though there was no scientific evidence for such a contention. Amidst this situation, the World Food Conference was convened by the United Nations (Rome, 1974) at the highest policy-making level to alleviate the critical global food crisis. Not surprisingly, one of the major recommendations of that conference was the absolute necessity of instituting proper control and management of water for both horizontal and vertical expansion of agriculture.
Secondly, the oil embargo of October 1973 and the rapidly escalating cost of oil thereafter heralded the end of the era of cheap energy. Faced with the problems of cost and reliability of oil supplies, nations encountered serious problems with their balance-of-payments deficits. Accordingly, countries started to explore different available energy alternatives and attention was focussed on hydroelectric developments because of the utilisation of indigenous renewable resources. This was a major departure from the normal policies of the 1950s and 1960s, when many nations preferred to construct thermal power plants because of the low cost and easy availability of oil.
Thirdly, as the developing countries started to industrialise, their industrial water requirements also increased. If the Lima Declaration of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (which recommended that 25 per cent of global industrial production should take place in developing countries by the year 2000) is to be achieved, the industrial water requirements of these nations are bound to increase significantly.
While large quantities of water are necessary for irrigation and for hydroelectric and industrial developments, another equally important aspect is domestic water use, though the volume of water required is not so large.
Both the UN Conference on Human Settlements (Vancouver, Canada, 1976) and the UN Water Conference (Mar del Plata, Argentina, 1977) emphasised the plight of people in developing countries, especially in rural areas, who do not have access to safe drinking water. The decade 1981-90 has now been officially declared the International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade in order to emphasise the magnitude and gravity of the problem and to rectify the situation.
While these four factors appear to relate only to increasing requirements of water quantity, the question of water quality is also essential. For water to be used for a specific purpose, its quality must satisfy certain minimum requirements. Pollution of inland and coastal waters and oceans has become an increasing focus of national and international concern. Thus, there is an urgent necessity to ensure optimal utilisation of available water, as well as maintenance and enhancement of its quality.
All major water projects in recent years have been multi-purpose developments. Water developments, especially in developing countries, invariably attempt to mitigate droughts and floods, so as to provide a steady supply of water for agricultural development. Since food and energy self sufficiency are two of the most important national objectives for all developing countries, and water uses for agriculture and hydropower developments are compatible (agriculture consumes water but hydropower does not), water development projects have become priority areas for many developing countries.
Irrigation has become a favourite sector for public investment and has also received funds from many donor countries, in the form of aid and/or loans. This can easily be recognised by analysing the lending pattern of the World Bank (Bank plus IDA). The very first loan to a developing country (Chile) made in March 1948, was for irrigation and hydropower development. From then until June 1982, the Bank's agricultural lending has been US$26.7 billion, of which more than $10 billion has been to finance some 285 irrigation projects. Totals costs would be of the order of 2.5 times the loans given. Nearly 38 per cent of agricultural lending has been for irrigation projects, representing approximately 10 per cent of all loans given by the Bank. Furthermore, ninety per cent of all agricultural lending has occurred only during the past decade, which further indicates the importance attached to development of the agricultural sector during the period.
There is no doubt that irrigated areas will continue to increase in the foreseeable future. In 1980, the total amount of irrigated area in developing countries was of the order of 160 million hectares, more than half of which was in China and India. As more and more desirable sites are developed for agricultural production and the development potential of some major irrigating countries like Egypt reaches a plateau, the future growth rate of irrigated areas is likely to be lower than that witnessed in the 1970s. With real investment costs reaching $2,000 to $10,000 per hectare, funds will not be easily available in the future for massive developments. Thus the maximum rate of expansion for irrigated areas that can realistically be expected by the year 2000 will probably be of the order of 1.7 per cent per year, a rate that is slightly lower than that witnessed in the recent past.
FAO, in its study Agriculture: Toward 2000, considered 90 developing countries of the world, but unfortunately did not include certain key countries like China. According to this study, and assuming a rate of expansion of 1.7 per cent per annum, the total irrigated area in the 90 developing countries was projected to increase from 105 million hectares in 1980 to 148 million hectares in 2000. This is slightly more than a 40 per cent increase over the two decades. Even after this increase, however, the ratio of irrigated area to total arable area would increase from 14 percent in 1980 to only 16 percent in 2000. This 16 per cent is expected to provide 41 per cent of total crop output. In other words, this means that by the end of this century, some 84 per cent of area producing some 51 per cent of crops will still be under rain-fed agriculture. It should be noted that, as a general rule, irrigated land not only provides better water control but also receives more attention, which accounts for the higher yield. For example, during the 1979-80 season, all developing countries used 29 million tonnes of fertilizer expressed in terms of plant nutrients, representing slightly over 25 per cent of the total amount of fertilizer used in the world. The distribution of fertilizer in developing countries was very uneven, starting from a low of 3.6 kg/ha in low rainfall areas, to 19.5 kg/ha in good rainfall areas, to a high of 100 kg/ha in fully irrigated areas.
Since it is unlikely that irrigated areas can be expanded at a high enough rate to substantially alleviate world hunger, what are the alternatives at present? Undoubtedly, the most important alternative available is a more efficient use of irrigated land than is currently practiced. Some of the problems associated with irrigation management are detailed in Chapter 1. Suffice it to say here that irrigation developments in many countries have not produced the benefits anticipated. For example, the April 1980 report of the Club du Sahel on The Development of Irrigated Agriculture in the Sahel painted a very depressing picture: investment costs per hectare "are always more than $5,000 and can reach $15,000 and even $20,000. They also require continuous and expensive maintenance. Without maintenance, they deteriorate rapidly and their rehabilitation is even more costly than their maintenance." Expected high yields and double annual cropping was not occurring. Yields of rice, the main crop farmed under irrigation, at the Office du Niger have varied in recent years between 1.7 and 2.6 tons per hectare, though they should reach 5 to 6 tons according to the experts. In spite of the serious food situation, the 1979 survey of the Sahel indicated that not all developed areas were being farmed and not all the areas farmed were being harvested for various reasons. It concluded that areas under irrigation in the Sahel have doubled during the period 1960-1979 (to 75,000 ha under total water control and 155,000 under partial water control) but "generally speaking, during the past few years, the development of new areas has barely surpassed the surface of older ones which had to be abandoned."
Water management is certainly better in Asia than in the Sahel, but it is still somewhat poor. For example, FAO estimates that, due to insufficient drainage, 50 per cent of the world's irrigated land has become saline to the extent that it affects overall production. Similarly, a comprehensive analysis, carried out in 1981, of 30 irrigated projects in 15 countries that were supported by the World Bank concluded: "Overall, water management . . . was found to have received inadequate attention. Insufficient provisions for the systems' operations and maintenance were made at appraisal; insufficient action was taken during implementation. Analysis of water management issues in completion and audit reports-as well as in the appraisal reports-tended to be incomplete or superficial; quantitative data was sparse and fragmentary . . . Water supply proved inadequate in 10 cases, unreliable in 6 and inequitable in 3; water losses proved excessive in 5."
From my personal experience in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, the criticisms levelled by the World Bank study are unfortunately commonplace. Undoubtedly, better and more efficient management of water resources development projects has to be in any agenda for socio-economic development of the Third World. Regrettably, there is a world-wide tendency to prefer new developments compared to making existing projects more efficient. This does not mean that new irrigation projects should not be built, but rather emphasis should be placed on making existing projects more efficient and simultaneously ensuring that the new projects remain in good operating order.
Long-distance water transfer, the primary focus of this book, is being investigated as a serious alternative in many countries at present. As the need for irrigation has increased, so has the need to develop all viable sources of water. As water shortages occur and technology develops, schemes that were not practicable or viable at an earlier date are being reviewed. The size of water-transfer schemes being considered is increasing steadily. Thus, the volume of water to be transferred and the distance over which it has to be transferred are significantly higher than they used to be during the early part of this century. As a general rule, as the magnitude of water transfer schemes increases, so do their technical, economic and environmental complexities. The first part of this book outlines general considerations for long-distance water transfer projects and the experiences gained from such projects in different parts of the world. The second part deals with the present plans for long-distance water transfer in China which, when carried out, will certainly be one of the largest water projects ever undertaken in the history of mankind.
Many changes have taken place in China during the last five years. More flexible approaches to agricultural policies and planning, which started in China around 1977, have resulted in a minor agricultural revolution. Relaxation of rigid policies imposed by central authorities and previously enforced for collectivised agriculture; allowance of decision-making at commune level in terms of crops, land use and use of inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides; deregulation of marketing policies to allow private sale of products; and increased purchase prices for agricultural products and livestock-all these factors have resulted in:
(a) average annual growth of 7 per cent in agricultural products during
(b) increase in food-grain output of 5 per cent a year, even though both 1977 and 1980 were climatically unfavourable for wheat production;
(c) increase in cotton production by 23 per cent in 1979-80 and in oilseeds by 92 per cent during 1977-80;
(d) increase in meat production by over 50 per cent during 1978-80.
Commendable though these advances are, much remains to be done to use China's land and water resources optimally and efficiently on a sustainable basis and to further improve the living standards of over one billion inhabitants of that country. Thus, much thought is being given at present to the problem of how best to use water from water-surplus areas; one important option being considered is to transfer surplus water to the deficient regions. Fortunately, the Chinese scientists, engineers and decision-makers are well aware of both the potential benefits and costs of such a major undertaking which will undoubtedly modify the existing water regime over a vast geographical area. As Vice-Premier Fang Yi informed me, all the alternatives and their potential benefits and costs will have to be carefully evaluated before any final decision can be taken.
In late 1980, Professor Walther Manshard, the then Vice-Rector of the United Nations University, invited me to lead an international team of experts to review China's water transfer plan with Academia Sinica and appropriate Chinese water management agencies. Since then, I have made several trips to China in connection with the project. This book is a direct result of these efforts.
I would especially like to thank Professor Zuo Dakang, Director of the Institute of Geography, Academia Sinica, for his wonderful hospitality during my visits to China and his patience in explaining the various issues and answering numerous questions. l have learnt much about China from Professor Zuo and his collaboration in preparing this text has been invaluable. The extensive visits to sites organized by the Academia Sinica gave us first-hand knowledge of the problems to be encountered in undertaking such a large-scale project. I would also like to express my appreciation to my co-editor, Professor James Nickum, whose fluency in Chinese and expertise on both water development and China has made this book possible.
Last but not least, this book would not have been possible without the continuing interest of Professor Walther Manshard and Mr. Lee H. MacDonald of the United Nations University. Mr. MacDonald was not only with us for the field visits in China but has also taken a keen personal interest in this project from the beginning. In conclusion, I am truly grateful for the assistance of Professors Zuo, Nickum, Manshard, and Mr. MacDonald.
Asit K. Biswas
Director, Biswas & Associates
76 Woodstock Close, Oxford, England