Triple A Weekly Newsletter

Courses & Workshops

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Resource Centre

Interaction for Leadership

Primary Health Care



General Interest

Articles and Lectures

Letters from an Economist

Discussion Forum

Weekly Review





Welcome to!
PANeL News - 2)

Trade to top China-Africa summit 


China is eager to cement cultural and economic ties with Africa

More than 40 African heads of state have gathered in Beijing for a summit with China on trade and investment.

"We take great pride in China's strong and warm friendship with Africa," said Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi at the opening of the conference.

As its economy booms, China's drive to buy African oil and other commodities has led to a big increase in two-way trade, worth $42bn (£22bn) in 2005.

Africa is also a growing market for Chinese goods.

But critics say Beijing is stifling African manufacturing.

Some analysts have said Africa is the only place left to go, as most of the world's other big oil reserves are already being developed by major western energy companies.


  Table of Afro-Chinese trade


Trade between China and Africa has increased 10-fold since 1995.


Officials have said that up to 2,500 separate business deals could be under discussion during the summit. Many of them are expected to revolve around China's hunger for African mineral resources, particularly oil.

Some critics have voice concerns over how Chinese-owned firms are treating African workers.


Protests broke out in Zambia in July about the alleged ill-treatment of workers at a Chinese-owned mine, and there have been reports of pay disputes in Namibia.


China's supporters point to the fact that it has invested billions of dollars in aid, cheap loans and helping to upgrade roads, ports, railways, telephone lines, power stations and other key infrastructure across Africa.


Often, Chinese money is funding projects that western investors had deemed too risky.


Many economists argue that overall, China's growing economic ties to Africa are benefiting the region.


Water – the next concern for us all


Friends who live in Sierra Leone tell me that this rainy season has been amongst the heaviest in living memory and yet in Freetown, the capital they have constant water shortages. This example of inadequate supply is probably man made but in other parts of the world the shortages are not solely the result of poor management.

In Thailand the rains have also been heavy but the people of this beautiful country know that in six months time much of their land will be parched. The pattern of chronic floods and chronic droughts is becoming a familiar one all over the developing world.

Taken together Asia has less fresh water – 3920 cubic metres, 138,000 cubic feet per person – than any other continent outside Antarctica. As a continent it has slightly less water than either Europe or Africa.


The water league table



Continent                                            Cubic metres of water supply per person


Africa                                                                           5720

Asia                                                                             3920                          

Australia and Oceania                                                   83600

Europe                                                                         4240

North America                                                 17400

South America                                                  38300


Source: United Nations and figures refer to 2004.


Within the figure for Asia are examples of how difficult it is to base decisions on averages. China has an abundance of water and with its strong central control of decision-making can build a dam wherever the government wants. Singapore, which has until recently relied on Malaysia for much of its water has embarked on a water harvesting programme and has also started re-cycling programmes. In Phnom Penh, where just a decade ago only one in five families had access to piped water now  supplies mains water to most villages. A similar pattern is emerging in Thailand but quantity does not necessarily mean quality and many Asian countries admit to having low standards of water quality.

A lack of access to adequate supplies of water is now accepted a major brake on economic development. Computer chip and electronic factories take vast amounts of water and so do intensive farming programmes. As those who work in such industries grow richer so they purchase the machines we rely on here in the richer world. Sales of washing machines and dishwashers are beginning to grow in Asia and they too demand water in large amounts.

We all know of the dramatic rise of China as a world power but do we appreciate that it consumes 40 billion cubic meters of water a year? This summer, in one of their worst draughts for many years over 18 million Chinese were affected by a shortage of drinking water. This was mainly in the south west of the country but other regions accept that their ‘water balance’ could easily be altered by a draught.

In Asia it is accepted that they are running beyond their ecological means and that water shortages are a probable cause of future conflict. Competition for access to water is causing political tensions within societies and within communities. A factory owner versus local farmers is one area of tension but perhaps the most worrying is rural versus urban dwellers. This is not only a familiar area of tension but one which has ignited troubles in the past. Two of the dams built in China on the Mekong River have angered fishermen in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos who say that fish stocks have fallen and that prices for a staple foodstuff of the poorer people have risen. China is now planning to build a further three dams along the Mekong River.

In the long-term water may become less available within the Asian region. Global warming is melting the glaciers that feed its largest rivers, namely the Ganges, Indus, Mekong, Yangtze and Yellow. The melting of this natural rationing process could cause initial flooding as water levels rise and then shortages as river flows drop.

As Nick Stern’s report stated the world has to give serious consideration to the problems of water management. In Asia nearly 700 million have no access to safe drinking water (twice the population of USA). In China alone the UN estimates that those without direct access to clean drinking water are nearly the same as all suffering the same fate in Africa. In two of India’s largest cities Delhi and Chennai tap water is only available for one or two hours a day. In a problem known to us in the United Kingdom Asia loses half of its piped water everyday through the leakages known to exist within some of their older systems. Put bluntly, if they could mend the leaks they would double their capacity.

Asians use less water a day than Americans – 150 litres a day compared with over 400 litres of the average American citizen – but the trend is towards greater water use. In China daily water use is now 244 litres a day and rising. If China tries to replicate US life styles it is doubtful if they could provide sufficient water for their citizens.

Even where water has been increased in supply the real quality of life of the average citizen can be disguised by this apparent growth. For all those who live in high rise, air conditioned flats there are millions who survive in the poorest living conditions this planet has anywhere on its surface.

Maybe Asia has to look to restoring wet lands or growing forests but this comes into direct conflict with the pressure on agriculture to grow more food.

As with all economics it is a case of a complicated ‘trade-off but it is one that is growing in importance in all parts of the developing world and it cannot be ignored.



4th November 2006.