How Did China Misplace 27000 Rivers?

China's rivers are disappearing at an alarming rate. When China set out to conduct its First National Census of Water, government officials expected to get a better understanding of the country’s rivers and other aquatic resources. But the results of that census have left some environmentalists wondering what happened to all of China’s waterways and if there is a looming water crisis for the world’s most populous nation.

Prior to conducting the water census, China estimated that it had upwards of 50,000 rivers inside of its borders. But the findings of the three-year study indicate that that number is actually 22,909. That’s a loss of more than 27,000 rivers with a combined total water volume that would be about the equivalent of the Mississippi River. That is a significant amount of water to have completely vanished.

So what exactly happened to all of those rivers? China blames their disappearance on two factors – outdated mapping techniques and global climate change. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, China’s Deputy Director of the Ministry of Water Resources, Huang He, indicated that the original estimate was probably too high due to inaccurate topographic maps that trace their origin back to the 1950s. He also acknowledged that climate change has led to the loss of both water and soil throughout China.
Environmental activists aren’t convinced, however. While many acknowledge that better mapping technology has no doubt led to a more accurate river count, there is a widely held belief that China’s booming economy and terrible record on protecting the environment both had a big impact on the loss of these waterways. This is evident in the slow, but steady, drop in water levels on the country’s two longest rivers, the Yangtze and Yellow.

Considering how quickly China’s population continues to grow and its towns and cities are modernizing, there is great fear that the nearly 23,000 rivers that do exist there will not be adequate to meet the demands placed on them in the 21st century and beyond. To make matters worse, many of those rivers are already greatly polluted, which will likely lead to a host of other health problems in the future.

China won’t be the only nation dealing with water shortages in the future if climatologists are to be believed. Climate change is drying up rivers all over the world, not to mention shifting weather patterns and causing droughts. The difference is that most other countries don’t have a population anywhere close to the size of China’s and most aren’t inflicting as much damage on their waterways as the Asian country.

Predicting what the future holds is a difficult proposition. But lets hope that when China takes its Second National Census of Water it doesn’t lose more than half of its waterways once again.

[Photo Credit: Luo Shaoyang via WikiMedia]