While the economy booms, 20 per cent of plants and animals are endangered and 600 cities do not have enough water Experts have warned of a host of environmental disasters looming on the horizon as the mainland economy develops at a frantic pace. A report by the State Forestry Administration estimates 15 to 20 per cent of plants and animals across the country are endangered, compared with a global average of between 10 and 15 per cent. In another report published yesterday, experts were cited as saying that about 110 cities were facing chronic water shortages. The report from the forestry administration said the country could lose up to 20 per cent of its plant and animal species, largely due to poaching and habitat destruction. It said more than 300 species of land vertebrates and 410 species of wild plants were at risk. Chinese species accounted for 156 of the 640 species of endangered fauna and flora listed by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Xinhua reported. The report claimed the threat to Chinese species was considerably higher than in most other nations, and said experts estimated that by 2010 about 3,000 to 4,000 plants species would be endangered. Zhang Li, China country director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said the problem was mainly due to the large population and the low level of public awareness about environmental issues. 'Economic and agricultural activities have sped up the extinction rate of species by breaking up their habitat and devastating their environment with pollution.' Dr Zhang said rampant poaching was also a major threat to many animals. Meanwhile, water conservation experts were cited by Xinhua as saying that more than 600 major cities had insufficient water supplies, with about 110 in a chronic state. The report said there was an annual shortage of about seven billion cubic metres of water, which led to annual economic losses of 300 billion yuan (HK$282 billion). More than 60 per cent of mainland cities rely heavily on groundwater - particularly in the north and northwest. But with large parts of the country hit by drought, the groundwater levels are now dangerously low. Beijing is preparing to launch several emergency groundwater projects after experts warned that the capital had only about 10 months' supply left. These projects are expected to provide about 40 million cubic metres of water. But some experts are deeply concerned about the ecological costs of relying on groundwater. 'If the groundwater table drops below a certain level, polluted water can easily flow in and contaminate the whole system,' said Huang Guanhua, a professor at Beijing Agriculture University's civil engineering college. Some coastal cities, such as Yantai in Shandong province and Tianjin, have already been badly affected after sea water seeped into the groundwater system, he said. Instead of relying on groundwater projects, many environmental experts urged the authorities to introduce policies to promote water conservation, such as levying higher fees for heavy users. The problem of annual flooding in southern river basins while drought strikes the northern provinces has prompted authorities to launch a controversial project to divert water from the south to the arid north.