Lady lakes vanish into the blues
By Op Rana (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-06 07:35

The world is obsessed with efforts to strike a deal in Copenhagen next month to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. But unfortunately the 13th World Lake Conference in China's central city of Wuhan, which is part of the same save-the-environment campaign, has largely gone ignored. This is not to say we should miss the wood for the trees. But without the trees, there can be no wood.

Lady lakes vanish into the blues

And it seems knocking on wood cannot get us out of the woods of environmental uncertainty. As if all the vanishing forests, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, rising seas and retreating glaciers were not enough, China has now woken up to the startling revelation of losing more than 1,000 lakes in just 50 years. Zhang Yongchun, an expert from Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences, said that in absolute terms, China has lost 9,570 sq km of its water area, and 51.6 billion cu m of its water-storage capacity.

What's worse, on average 20 lakes are still disappearing in the country every year and water in more than 80 percent of the lakes in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River has reportedly become unfit for human consumption because of algae outbreaks.

China boasts of 2,300 lakes with an area of more than 1 sq km each. We don't know how many of them have disappeared. But we do know that lakes, being one of the two most important sources of freshwater, play a very important role in the country's economic development. Ironically, many of those more than 1,000 lakes are likely to fall victim to economic development - to land sharks and real estate developers, who might have built factories or buildings on them. Some may have even been filled to extend farmland.

Every child is taught in school that lakes are temporary over geologic time scales, meaning they will gradually fill up with sediments or spill out of their basins to ultimately join the oceans. But 50 years is less than a drop in the ocean on geologic time scales.

The loss of a lake is not simply the loss of a water body. It is the loss of endemic plants, animals and other organisms. It is the loss of biodiversity. It is the loss of a chain of life because every living creature on this planet is dependent on others for its survival.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the lake conference, Minister of Water Resources Chen Lei magnanimously conceded that the government has not been able to better improve the quality of water in lakes, and that some lakes are still seriously polluted.

But the Ministry of Water Resources is trying to clear the mess created by others. It has been hard pressed to keep the pace of its water-cleaning program with the water-pollution spree of other departments in their blind pursuit of economic development.

Everybody agrees that the world's economic development has come at a huge cost of the environment. That cost is evident not only in GHG emissions, soil erosion, freaky weather and polluted air, but also shrinking glaciers and withering lakes. And we don't need a post-Kyoto treaty to stop paying that cost.

E-mail: oprana@hotmail.com