Water Woes May Hamper Beijing’s Winter Olympics Bid

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015
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Beijing is currently vying against sole rival Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, for the honour of hosting the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Should the Chinese capital manage to win this distinction, it would become the first city in history to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

China’s bid is imperiled, however, by concerns over the ecological impact of staging the Winter Olympics in its historic capital, as well as the suitability of local conditions for an event that is highly dependent upon environmental factors.

Experts point out that staging ski events in the greater Beijing area will entail the consumption of copious amounts of water for the generation of artificial snow at a time when China as a whole is struggling to deal with increasingly acute water scarcity.

Hu Kanping, a hydrologist affiliated with Chinese environmental organization Friends of Nature, pointed out in a 2011 report that the 11 ski resorts already operating in Beijing used around a billion gallons of water per annum – enough to satisfy the needs of 42,000 people.

The mountainous areas adjacent to Beijing where ski facilities are currently under construction, are actually categorized as semi-arid, receiving only 15 to 16 inches of rain per annum.

The problems caused by this low level of annual rainfall for any prospective ski resorts are further compounded by the seasonal skew of precipitation patterns.

Two-thirds of precipitation in these areas arrives during the summer months, while in December and January there’s usually only a tenth of an inch or so of of precipitation. This means Beijing barely receives any natural snowfall.

The problem of water scarcity in the Beijing area has worsened significantly over the past few decades, as its resource-intensive economy has flourished and the population has expanded to roughly 22 million residents.

As is par for the course of the Chinese government, a monumental infrastructure project has been launched to ameliorate the situation, in the form of a $62 billion canal project that will convey water from the warm, sodden south to the parched north.

Many are concerned, however, that this solution could have dire environmental consequences elsewhere, such as water shortages in the Yangtze River – China’s longest river and one of the country’s most important transportation routes.

Beijing is far from alone, unfortunately, when it comes to cities that are attempting to establish themselves as popular ski destinations despite adverse environmental conditions.

A slew of nations characterized by parched or balmy climates are attempting to establish their own ski resorts, including India, Pakistan and Turkey.

The last host of the Winter Olympics, the coastal resort town of Sochi in Russia, was similarly ill-suited to the hosting of ski events when it came to environmental conditions.

Sochi, which is situated on the eastern coast of the Black Sea and has a humid subtropical climate, receives just 21 inches of precipitation per annum. This meager amount of precipitation compelled organizers to amass as many as 600,000 cubic yards of snow in preparation for the staging of the games.

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