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[BEIJING] Water-intensive or polluting industries are expanding in some of China's driest regions, warns a study in the June issue of Ecological Economics.

It urges China to reconsider the siting of industries with heavy water demands in the north of the country, which contains about 20 per cent of China's total water resources but supports more than half its 1.3 billion population.

Dabo Guan and Klaus Hubacek of the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, assessed inter-regional trade within China and its effects on water use and pollution in the relatively arid north.

They estimate that the production of commodities that the north exports to southern China or other countries causes 4.2 billion cubic metres of water losses a year, or five per cent of the north's total available water.

These products include paper, textiles, processed foods and farm produce from irrigated land.

At the same time, numerous water-polluting industries, such as metal mining and paper and chemical production, are concentrated in northern China.

By contrast, Guangdong Province in southern China, where water is abundant, exports commodities such as electrical equipment and commercial or social services, none of which demands excessive use of water.

Guangdong also imports pollution-intensive products from the north, thereby effectively keeping its own watercourses relatively clean.

"Environmental resources have been seen as cost-free in China and as such have not been considered important factors in economic decision-making," says Hubacek.

"However, for economic expansion to be sustainable, economic policies and development must take into account water consumption and availability," says Hubacek.

Link to abstract of paper in Ecological Economics

Reference: Ecological Economics doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2006.02.022 (2006)

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