(PANeL News - 2)
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
But critics say Beijing is stifling
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.
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.
– 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.
water league table
Cubic metres of water supply
Australia and Oceania
Source: United Nations and figures refer
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
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
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.