Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 07/2008

Water price policy analysis in China: an experimental approach

Jikun Huang, Qiuqiong Huang, Jinxia Wang, Jun Xia

January 2007

Asia-Pacific Research Center


Water scarcity is one of the key problems that affect northern China, an area that covers 40 percent of the nation's cultivated area and houses almost half of the population. The water availability per capita in North China is only around 300 m3 per capita, which is less than one seventh of the national average. At the same time, expanding irrigated cultivated area, the rapidly growing industrial sector and an increasingly wealthy urban population demand rising volumes of water. As a result, groundwater resources are diminishing in large areas of northern China. For example, between 1958 and 1998, groundwater levels in the Hai River Basin fell by up to 50 meters in some shallow aquifers and by more than 95 meters in some deep aquifers.

Past water policies have not been effective in solving water scarcity problems. China's leaders have put priorities on increasing water supply through developing more canal networks or building more reservoirs. In 2001, the State Council started the South-to-North Water Transfer Project. However, these supply-side approaches cannot meet the increasing demand for water from all of the different sectors and cannot solve water scarcity problems in the long run.