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Earthwatch. 1989;(34):8-9.

Population pressures on resources and the environment.



Because of helter-skelter urbanization, the proliferation of small-scale rural cottage industries, and economic reforms, China's total cultivated land area was reduced by 14.67 million hectares between 1957 and 1987. Presently (1989), the amount of cultivated land per capita is a mere 0.13 hectares, half of what it was in 1949. The growth of towns and cities, along with rural industries have combined to accelerate China's loss of agricultural land. Between 1985 and 1986, an additional 1.7 billion square meters of rural housing was built. The most serious loss of cropland, however, is taking place in coastal areas. China's increasing population has also put a strain on water resources. According to a 1985 survey 183 cities (out of 324) were found to be in water deficit, with 40 cities put on the critical list. In the dry north-west region of China it has been estimated that some 40 million people along with 30 million domestic animals suffer from a shortage of potable water. About 93 million hectares of rangeland in northern China lack adequate rainfall. In several regions of northern China, the groundwater table is falling at the rate of 4-5 meters per year creating surface subsidence in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Xi'an. Government officials are beginning to see the necessity of balancing economic development with resource conservation and environmental management. It is the intention of the Government to keep China's population at around 1.2 billion by the year 2000. A new law on Land Resources Management has managed to reduce the amount of agricultural land taken out of production. The Bureau of Territory was set up in 1981 to develop in a sustainable manner and to protect natural resources. The management of resources in key regions, such as the Beijing Tianjin-Tangshan region, the Shanghai-Hangzhou-Nanjing Region, the Pearl River Delta Region, and several with a fragile ecological environment like the Loess Plateau, have been given priority.

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