Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

India: Access to Water, Access to Education
September 2007

Few people in Shanghai ever think that their future could be defined by the ocean’s rising tides. Despite dire climate change predictions from scientists and the media, the public could not imagine their city being engulfed by seawaters. But city officials and local experts know they are racing against time to win a knotty battle with global warming. Will their plans hold water? TOP GLOBAL-WARMER Scientists have been at odds over who would suffer most from the consequences of global warming. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) analyzing the impact of greenhouse gas emissions states that the most vulnerable people in Asia will be the rural poor who rely on river delta for their livelihoods. Britain-based International Institute of Environment and Development, meanwhile, says Shanghai and other coastal cities in Asia are at risk. Their figures suggest that sea levels at Shanghai and Tianjin, another coastal city in northern China, could rise by 60 centimeters by 2050. With much of its energy from coal-fired power stations, China has become the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases that are linked to global warming. The country is in the midst of unprecedented industrialization and some experts expect it will surpass the United States this year as the world’s top global-warmer. The country is also particularly vulnerable to climate change because its water and land resources are already stretched thin and many of its major economic centers sit in low-lying coastal areas. LAND VERSUS SEA Shanghai’s climate change problems are further complicated by the city’s constant reclamation of land from the sea to satisfy the needs of its relentless growth. A rise of 60 centimeters in seawater is a significant threat to Shanghai’s 18 million people. The city itself lies in a low-elevated area of the Yangtze River delta, and the area where the Yangtze pours into the East China Sea sits only at 3-5 meters above sea level. “Such rise in sea levels would destroy the fragile equilibrium between economic growth and land reclamation,” warns geologist Zheng. “If land growth slows down, the economy would slow down too. This is the biggest worry for the government.” Shanghai is often described as one of the world’s biggest construction sites, reclaiming roughly 3,000 hectares of
_____________________________ Based on the article of Antoaneta Bezlova, Asia Water Wire journalist

land from the sea every year. Reclaimed land is now a feature of Shanghai daily life. Some of the city’s impressive new landmarks, like its futuristic airport in the financial district of Pudong, are all built on reclaimed land. And city leaders are now thinking of building a brand new eco-city on the marshy land of Shanghai’s Chongming island, another reclaimed area. SHANGHAI WATER GATE Shanghai experts are now proposing to build a water gate at Wu Song Kou Wai, near the Yangtze estuary, to prevent sea storms and lower the risk of flooding. It was a plan first put forward in the 1990s, but was never implemented. Since 1998’s devastating summer floods, however, when Yangtze’s swollen waters killed more than 3,000 people and left 14 million homeless, talks about the water gate plan for Shanghai resurfaced. Local experts argue that building such a gate would be less costly and more effective than raising and re-enforcing the current river dykes. Meteorologists have warned of more typhoons, floods and drought this year than at any time in the past decade because of global climate change. “The most severe floods since 1998 might hit the Yangtze this summer,” said Zheng Guoguang, director of the China Meteorological Administration. “We have been looking at plans to build a water gate near the river estuary as a way of lessening the flooding aftermath of a severe sea storm,” says Zhang Zhenyu, spokesman of Shanghai Flood Risk Information Center. GREAT SEA WALL Another proposal—to erect sea walls, the equivalent of a coastal Great Wall—has been put forward by experts in Tianjin, hoping that such embankments can also fend off the advancing tides. But some have dismissed such proposals as missing the core of the crisis. Shanghai-based columnist Chen Weihua argued that instead of building sea walls, China should tackle its deteriorating environment to preempt doomsday scenarios for its coastal cities. “Erecting a strong embankment may not make people feel safe,” Chen said. “Just look at the numerous cases of fortifications rupturing along China’s major rivers and lakes in the last few decades, and the cracking of a sea wall will surely inflict damage of much larger magnitude, considering the might of the ocean as demonstrated in the Asian tsunami of December 2004.”

*This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in September 2007: The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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