Ever Wondered How Much Water China Imports?

China's economy may be slowing but its appetite for imported water from the rest of the world just keeps growing. Research by renowned hydrologysts Liu, Shi and Pinter shows that China imported a stunning 143 cubic kilometers of water in 2010, up from a mere 6 cubic kilometers in 1985.

China: Water Imports, Exports and Balance, 1985-2010

Source: Hydrology and Earth Systems Sciences: Recent evolution of China’s virtual water trade: analysis of selected crops and considerations for policy, J. Shi, J. Liu , and L. Pinter, (2014)

China doesn't necessarily pipe the water in. China imports water through the 'virtual water trade': i.e. through imports of water-intensive crops such as soybeans and fruits.

However, China's growing appetite for all things foreign may have a distinct impact on water supplies in countries around the globe. For example, China is a significant importer of almonds, the very product that requires 8 gallons of water to produce, and which has been blamed for the recent droughts in California.

It's up to governments to respond and accept that, while free trade with China has its benefits, it also has significant knock-on effects that have to be managed.