Water scarcity challenges China’s development model

  • 02.10.2022
  • Lowy Institute

Southern China’s longest drought on record is the latest manifestation of a slow-burning but increasingly severe water crisis. Left unchecked, it has the potential to act as a material handbrake on China’s development.

Thus far, southwestern China has borne the brunt of the drought. As of late August, Sichuan was generating just 49 per cent of its typical hydropower load. This is untenable in a province that relies on hydro for most of its electricity generation. The result was widespread industrial disruption, culminating in the temporary closure of Foxconn and Toyota plants.

Transporting southern China’s surplus water northwards through megaprojects is increasingly relied upon to address the country’s pronounced water supply and demand imbalance.

The severity of southern China’s drought is concerning on several fronts.