Water stress, water transfer and social equity in Northern China-Implications for policy reforms

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Water stress in Northern China is characterized with major, inefficient irrigation water use and rapidly growing non-agricultural water demands, as well as limited water quantity and declining water quality. Water use in the region is undergoing transfer from agricultural to municipal and industrial sectors. Currently, part of the economic loss and environmental damage due to water stress can be considered as a consequence of water transfer failures, including the current transfers, which hurt farmers' livelihood and income, and the needed transfers, which industry and cities have been waiting for but have not received. This paper starts with a discussion of the causes of water stress in Northern China, which is fundamental to understand the necessity and complexity of agricultural water transfers. Following that, it reviews water transfers in Northern China as a cause for concern over the social stability, economy and environment of the region. Based on an integrated analysis of economic, environmental, fiscal and social implications, this paper begins by identifying critical barriers to smooth water redistribution; and ends with implications for policy reforms, ensuring that farmers can and will save water. It is concluded that the decisions of water reallocation under water stress should be shared by communities at all levels, from the local to the national, to ensure equal access of water, especially the availability of the basic water need for all groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14-25
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • China
  • Policy
  • Social equity
  • Water stress
  • Water transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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