[Viewpoint] An insatiable appetite

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[Viewpoint] An insatiable appetite

In the southern region of China grows a flower called the panzhihua. It is a spring flower, also known as the ceiba. It’s as common there as the rhododendron and forsythia are in Korea.

There is even a city named after it in Sichuan Province. The city is as beautiful as its name, and is famous for its pleasant atmosphere.

However, these days the city of Panzhihua is suffering from drought.

It hasn’t rained since last September, and both the city and the surrounding countryside are cracking due to the painful lack of water.

To the people of Panzhihua, laundry has become a luxury. Most of the rural population haven’t even had showers since Lunar New Year’s Day in February. There are even stories of how people are delaying their weddings because they can’t wash themselves. Local news reports say that the drought has become so bad that every day sees an exodus of people from the city.

In China, a new phrase has been coined: “the panzhihua pain.” It is so named because the region where this flower grows - which includes the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi - is currently experiencing the worst drought in history.

Some 60 million people are suffering from water shortages. Among these, 20 million don’t even have clean drinking water.

The area affected is so wide that even government relief efforts aren’t enough.

The expression jidaemulbak, meaning “vast territory, abundant resources,” has often been used to describe China. Is this true now?

China lacks the most important resource for human survival: water.

Among the 655 cities in the country, 400 suffer from lack of water to some extent. Of these, water shortages in 110 cities have reached dangerous levels, according to the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources.

Besides the current drought in the southwest, northwestern cities also suffer from water shortages all year round. Even the capital city, Beijing, is struggling to maintain its supply of drinking water.

Water is not the only resource China lacks. The mineral supply is also dwindling.

China’s total oil deposits amount to three billion tons, making it the 10th-largest oil-producing country in the world. But that picture looks different when you consider the population - more than 1.3 billion, according to statistics from the United Nations.

The oil deposit per person is only 15 percent that of the world average. The bigger problem is that the rate of oil production cannot keep pace with the speed of the country’s economic development.

Last year, the number of cars sold in China totaled almost 13.7 million. That is to say, 80 percent of all the cars in Korea poured onto the streets of China in just one year.

Cars are also gas guzzlers. They cannot help but increase the demand for oil. Major cities in China have already had oil crises.

Without enough oil at home, the only solution is to buy it on the international market. Last year, China imported 200 million tons of oil, a 14-percent increase from the previous year.

China, which had been an oil-exporting country up to 1992, now relies on imports for 51.2 percent of its supply. Of the increase in international oil demand last year, 25 percent was due to China.

The situation is similar with other minerals. China takes up 50 percent of the world’s cement demand, 30 percent for iron ore and 40 percent for copper.

The prices on international commodities markets dance to China’s tune.

The resource allocation of China, a land of vast territory but insufficient resources, is a structure that will continue to strain the world economy.

The “panzhihua pain” hurts even in places where no one knows the flower’s name.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is deputy director of the China Institute of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Han Woo-duk
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