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Water crisis looms in Peking as rains fail

PEKING - The city is suffering the worst drought this century, the government admitted yesterday, writes Teresa Poole. It is facing an acute water shortage over the next three months, with reservoirs depleted by the lack of rain and an obsolete, leaking plumbing system.

Teng Shutang, general-engineer of the Water Resources Bureau, warned that Peking was 'rapidly reaching water scarcity and facing limits to further economic development due to the persistent spell of dry weather'.

The amount of water retained last year in the city's two main reservoirs was less than a quarter of the levels in the Eighties. In central Peking, the dusty streets and arid parks are stark evidence of the decline in rainfall over the past two years. The annual precipitation was just 16.8in last year, and rainfall in the first four months of this year was down 75 per cent on the average.

Breakneck economic growth and the large number of new buildings and hotels are putting ever-greater demands on the water supply system. At the same time, Peking's creaking infrastructure makes the problem worse: a large proportion of taps are impossible to turn off and are left running continuously.

The Water Saving Office has told residents and institutions to implement water-saving measures but admits that few people are aware of the problem. Water prices are heavily subsided by the government, so there is little incentive to fix bad plumbing.