Chinese groundwater reserves are in peril and the country must cut domestic food production.
Zheng Chunmiao, director of the Water Research Centre at Peking University, said the world's most populous country will have to focus more on demand-side restraint because it is becoming more expensive and difficult to tap finite supplies below the surface.
"The government must adopt a new policy to reduce water consumption," Zheng told the Guardian. "The main thing is to reduce demand. We have relied too much on engineering projects, but the government realises this is not a long-term solution."
"The water situation in the North China plain does not allow much longer for irrigation," Zheng said. "We need to reduce food production even though it is politically difficult. It would be much more economical to import."
And there's the rub. China is already locking up vast tracts of the best farmland in East Africa, an initiative it has already expanded into South America. It may be "much more economical" indeed for China to import foodstuffs but that also places it in competition with the populations of poor countries for the food they need but sometimes can't afford to buy from their own homelands.
As Guardian enviroscribe Damian Carrington points out, China's water perils are shared in many other parts of our world where nations continue to get by only thanks to a resource Ponzi scheme.
It's a perfect storm of water, food and energy crises and has arrived two decades sooner than even the most sober analysts expected. And while the Middle East is the first region to feel the wrath of that storm, across the world warning signs are flashing – from the sinking of Mexico City as its aquifers are sucked dry to the docking of freshwater tankers in Barcelona.
The world's population tripled in the 20th century, but the thirst for water grew six-fold, the large majority sprinkled on fields. The UN predicts that, by 2025, two-thirds of us will experience water shortages, with nearly two billion suffering severe shortfalls. Today China, struck by terrible droughts in its agricultural heartlands, is the world's biggest importer of "virtual water": the billions of tonnes of water used to produce the food and other goods brought into the world's most populous nation.
China, along with other water-stressed nations such as Saudi Arabia and South Korea, has sought to cut out the middlemen and acquire land in wetter places for themselves in order to grow and send food home. The so-called "land grabs" across the global south are the result.
From Australia to Hong Kong to India to Spain, nations caught between the stormy equator and the damp high latitudes are running out of water. Global warming will evaporate more moisture into the air, but in all likelihood this will fall in harder downpours in already wet areas rather than bring relief to arid lands. Increasingly, warming will lead to "global weirding" of the weather, with freak events uprooting thousands of years of farming knowledge.
2025, two-thirds of humanity facing water shortages. A world in which it won't be just the impoverished nations that are scrambling for food. Powerful countries will compete, head to head, for the basics of life - food and water. And what of our political leaders? What vision do they offer for protecting Canada in the world of 2025? None, absolutely none. Harper, Layton, Rae - not an idea among the three of them. It's as though Canada itself is something for someone else to worry about. When it comes to these duds, we're on our own.