Saturday, June 24, 2006

The dance band on the Titanic.

Every so often, you're reminded that "fiddling while Rome burns" isn't just a cliche ... it's a way of life for entire populations:

Beijing's thirst for skiing is quickly sapping city dry

... just northeast of Beijing is the most bizarre sight of all: a massive 10-storey indoor ski resort, Qiaobo Ski Dome, which provides artificial snow on two slopes at a constant temperature of three degrees below 0 C, even in the oppressive heat of a Chinese summer.

The temperature climbed to a sweltering 33 C in Beijing this week, but newly affluent Chinese yuppies in the latest ski fashions were zipping down the 300-metre bunny hills and snowboard jumps at the indoor ski resort -- the first in the city's history. For their apr├Ęs-ski pleasure, the resort also includes a sauna, spa, karaoke lounge, restaurants, bars and VIP hotel rooms.

So what's the problem?

All of this is a boon for the pampered lifestyle of China's nouveaux riches, but it's provoking concern in the government. Beijing has endured a drought for the past seven years, and China is facing a severe shortage of water. The crisis is aggravated by surging demand from ski resorts, spas, saunas, massage centres, manicured-lawn villas, fountains, and all the other indulgences of the newly wealthy.

The government has already warned that Beijing residents must take urgent measures to save water or else the city will face a shortage of 1.1 billion cubic metres of water by the time of the 2008 Olympics. Beijing has promised a "Green Olympics" in 2008, but it will have to take drastic action to achieve that goal. Because of the drought, the water level in one of Beijing's main reservoirs has fallen 91 per cent below its average level.

The drought is compounded by heavy pollution, which has left more than half of the surface water in China's seven biggest rivers unfit for human consumption. Of the country's 600 biggest cities, 110 have serious shortages of drinkable water, and 320 million rural residents are also suffering water shortages. Last year, a chemical spill on the Songhua River left millions of people without water.

And when they seriously run out of water, guess whose door they'll be knocking on?

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