Our two-week trip during March followed an interesting trajectory as far as the scale of the challenge. Singapore, with its population of 5 million people, was our first stop. We then moved to Chengdu, a city of 11 million people -- already more than twice the population of Singapore -- and one brimming with industrial activity, dramatically increasing annual water demand. Furthermore, while southern China is often thought of as water-rich, Chengdu does not abut any of China's major rivers (although we learned at Veolia that the water sources near Chengdu are relatively clean). Finally, we ended in Beijing, a city of 22 million people. 22 million!
Singapore's centralized approach to water resource management certainly is impressive. The country launched its "four national taps" strategy (discussed eloquently by fellow blogger and class organizer Matt Nespoli here) around the turn of the millennium, and today it's in everyone's vocabulary, from government officials to private sector business leaders to ordinary citizens. From our point of view, it seemed that everyone in Singapore was aware of the country's water resource issues, its desire to be free of imported water from Malaysia in the next 50 years, and the steps that are being taken to achieve this goal.
At the same time, we then saw one city that has twice the population of Singapore and one that has four times the population -- and those were just two of the more than 300 cities in China. A country of that scale, with as much socioeconomic, geographic, climate and population density diversity as China has, cannot possibly come up with a centralized solution that will meet everyone's needs. Just think about it -- a single solution to meet Beijing's water demand would require a capacity four times that of Singapore's solution.
No one in our group expected to see the solution to Singapore's or China's water issues on this trip. Instead, I found myself humbled by the scope of the problem and completely inspired by the people we talked to who are dedicated to solving it. No dream is too big to address the problems of water consumption. The road ahead is tough, but between my classmates from this course and the tireless advocates we met in China and Singapore, I think solutions are on the horizon.