China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Saturday, December 31, 2005

E. China province sacks officials involving environment dispute case

HANGZHOU, Dec. 30 (Xinhuanet) -- A number of officials in eastern China's Zhejiang province city were relieved from their posts Friday over an environment dispute case that led to rioting by many villagers.

official circular released by the provincial discipline inspection authority said Tang Yong, former secretary of the Dongyang municipal committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC),and Chen Fengwei, the ex-mayor, had been sacked.

number of other officials responsible for the incident were also given administrative punishment or penalties in accordance with the CPC's disciplines, the circular said.

villagers in Huashui township of Dongyang had complained that chemical industries polluted the environment and forced the firms to stop operation by erecting bamboo shanties at the sites on April 10th.

failed to tear down the sheds and road blocks set up by villagers outside an industrial park housing 13 chemical factories. A number of them were injured and some vehicles were damaged in the riot.

provincial government has set up a special team to investigate the accusations of pollution and shut down those chemical plants thought responsible Technorati Tags: , ,

Russia: Chinese Toxic Spil Threatens Amur

Khabarovsk, Russia Dec 30 (Prensa Latina) The Chinese benzene spill has passed Khabarovsk 230-240 kilometers downstream the Amur River and it is expected to reach Amursk city on January 1, Far Eastern weather service said Friday.

The toxic spill is moving at a speed of 30 kilometers a day and the benzene concentration does not exceed 0.12 of the maximum allowable norm.

Hydrologists reported to the regional emergency commission that no major increase in pollution concentration is expected while the spill passes Amursk and goes further down to Komsomolsk-on-Amur, which it is likely to reach on January 4.

However, all emergency services are on alert in the cities and local water purification facilities are ready to cope with the pollution.

Russia and China are jointly working to fight the ecological disaster caused by a November 13 blast at the Jilin Petrochemical Company that sent tons of benzene and nitrobenzene into the Songhua River.

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20 sewage plants to be built in Three Gorges area

WUHAN, Dec. 30 (Xinhuanet) -- China plans to build 20 more sewage disposal plants in the Three Gorges Reservoir area in central Hubei Province on the Yangtze River to further improve water quality in the reservoir, official sources said on Friday.

to a 10-year plan on water pollution prevention in the reservoir area, China will invest 10 billion yuan (1.23 billion U.S. dollars) in water pollution control, said Huang Mao, deputy head of the leading group in charge of water pollution control at the Three Gorges Reservoir area of Hubei Province.

projects will be built in Zigui, Xingshan, Badong, Yuan'an, Enshi and Lichuan counties in the reservoir area, Huang said.

the province will build 20 garbage processing plantsin the next five years with an additional daily handling capacity of 1,000 tons.

Three Gorges Project, which includes the reservoir, is a massive hydro-electric power project on the middle reaches of the Yangtze river. The project is scheduled to be completed by 2009.

will invest 39.2 billion yuan (4.7 billion US dollars) inprojects to curb water pollution in the reservoir area and upper reaches of the Yangtze River by 2010.

Three Gorges Project will help control flooding in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze. It will also generate hydro-electric power equivalent to 50 million tons of coal annually after generators are operating at full capacity. Technorati Tags: ,

Friday, December 30, 2005

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Salt flooding shows cost of rapid growth

China Daily 2005-12-30 06:02

You wake up and want to drink a glass of water to quench your thirst but the water is too salty to drink. This is how mornings get off to a bad start for some residents of Guangdong Province, as the most serious saltwater tide in 20 years has recently hit many cities along the Pearl River.

Sea water flooding into rivers and lakes has caused a rapid increase in salt levels in fresh water resources, posing a serious threat to the potability of the drinking water of millions.

Serious drought has been cited as the major cause of the calamity. Because of the drought, the water level of various rivers dropped dramatically, meaning they do not have enough water to cancel out the effects of the influx of salty water.

It is absolutely right to call it a battle between fresh water in rivers and salty water from the ocean.

The rise of sea levels, primarily caused by global warming, has helped force the seawater assault while drastically increased water consumption has aggravated the problem of the lack of fresh water.

The population of Guangdong had increased from 52.28 million in 1980 to 78.58 million in 2002. As a result the consumption of water has risen dramatically. Statistics indicate the annual growth rate of water consumption has been 5 per cent over the past two decades.

Of the annual average consumption of 46 billion cubic metres, industrial production and daily life require 44.7 per cent, compared to 12.4 per cent at the end of the last decade.

Unfortunately, 16.75 billion cubic metres or 37.5 per cent is wasted, according to experts from the provincial bureau of water resources. Car washing is said to be a major drain, using 10 million cubic metres a year. The remainder of consumption is accounted for by agricultural uses, such as watering crops.

Guangdong is among a few provinces that have not adopted measures to introduce graduated prices for water use and different quotas to encourage awareness of saving water among residents.

Early this year, to stem the flow of salt water, Guangdong diverted water from neighbouring Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Guizhou Province. The diverted water rushed more than 1,000 kilometres to drive back the sea water, but at a high cost.

The saltwater tide is a natural calamity that occurs every year in the dry season. But undoubtedly, rapid economic development, a lack of concern about saving water and the preservation of water resources have aggravated the disaster, which has begun to occur more frequently and pose a much greater threat to daily life than previously.

What the local government should do is to try its best to save water, promote awareness of saving water and improve the capacity of its reservoirs and dams to preserve more fresh water for emergencies.

In addition, something must be done to improve the local environment, such as planting more trees and grass along the Pearl River and cutting down on the discharge of pollutants.

With a better environment, the Pearl River will be able to put up a stronger defence against natural calamities.

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Flawed donations from US returned

HEFEI, Dec. 29 (Xinhuanetnet) -- A batch of flawed donations from the United States-based charity organization LDS foundations were returned by east China's Anhui province on Thursday morning, the provincial charity association said.

(A worker shows a piece of medical equipment which expired on July, 1998 the batch of flawed donations from the United States-based charity organization LDS foundations in east China's Anhui province Thursday, December 29, 2005. Photo: Xinhua)

donations were sent to the provincial capital Hefei in early November. But some expired medicines, second-hand medical and rehabilitation facilities and stained clothes and beddings were found among the donations.

used articles are packed in four containers and worth aboutfour million yuan (490,000 US dollars).

foundations made an official apology on Dec.14 and promisedto shoulder all the expenses caused by returning the donations to the U.S.The freight is estimated at 6,000 US dollars.

batch of donations, believed to be brand-new, were planned to be handed out to four orphanages in Anhui province. LDS is still unclear about why the flawed articles are found among them.

foundations have a long-time partnership with China Charity Federation and they vowed to grant the equivalent cash money to Anhui province after taking the flawed articles back

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

China begins construction of first hydropower plant in controversial project

Wed Dec 28, 5:02 AM ET

China this week began construction of the first of four major hydropower plants on an strategically-important river, in a controversial project that has raised environmental concerns.

The Xiluodu hydropower station on the Jinsha river, a tributary of the Yangtze between the southwestern provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan, will have an installed capacity of 12.6 million kilowatts, the China Daily reported Wednesday.

The six-billion-dollar Xiluodu plant is slated for completion in 2015.

The Jinsha river project, including the construction of three other hydropower stations -- Xiangjiaba, Wudongde and Baihetan -- will have a combined installed capacity of 38.5 million kilowatts.

The energy output will be twice as large as the famous Three Gorges project on the Yangtze, which will be the world's biggest dam.

The 24-billion-dollar Jinsha project is part of the country's ambitious west-east electricity transmission plan, which aims to transfer power from the hydropower-rich southwest to the eastern provinces' economic powerhouses.

The Jinsha river will be dammed in 2007 for the power project, the China Daily said.

Environmentalists have argued that damming the Jinsha would do much damage to the local environment, threaten the area's distinct plants and animals and flood fertile land.

The new dams could also wipe out fish species whose migration routes to traditional breeding grounds will be blocked.

Nearly a year ago, the project's builder tried to defy an order from the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) to halt construction of the dam.

The power project was among 30 large-scale projects ordered stopped by the government agency due to a lack of mandatory environmental impact assessments.

When contacted by AFP on Wednesday, SEPA declined to comment on whether the project had now passed environmental assessments.

Meanwhile, the China Daily reported that China Energy Conservation Investment Corporation, a flagship state company, will invest at least 20 billion yuan (2.5 billion dollars) over the next five years to build alternative energy projects across the country.

These projects will generate electricity using alternative energy sources such as wind, biomass -- which stems from plant and animal matter -- and waste treatment, the newspaper said.

Last month, China said it would spend about 180 billion dollars over the next 15 years to increase its use of renewable energy from the current seven percent of total output to 15 percent.

China has said it is facing an electricity crisis with its booming economy creating massive demand for energy that has already resulted in major shortages.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Enforcement of water pollution prevention, control law to be examined

BEIJING, Dec. 28 (Xinhuanet) -- The Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC) will examine the enforcement of the law on water pollution prevention and control again in 2006, after a slew of water pollution accidents occurred in 2005.

move accords with the 2006 law enforcement examination plan,which was approved by a chairman and vice-chairpersons meeting of the 10th NPC Standing Committee earlier this month.

official with the 10th NPC Standing Committee said that in 2005, the legislature dispatched a group to examine the enforcement of water pollution prevention and control laws and draw a conclusion that China's water pollution situation remained serious.

in 2006, the 10th NPC Standing Committee will continue to examine the law's enforcement so as to curb the frequency of the water pollution accidents, the official said.

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Salty tide threatens Pearl Delta

A SERIOUS salty tide has threatened the Pearl River Delta and will last a few days, a Guangzhou-based newspaper reported today.

It has affected the water supply to some major cities in the area including Zhuhai and Zhongshan, the newspaper said.

The Zhuhai water authorities have implemented the emergency plan and suspended tap water to sauna and bathing industries. The greening, gardening and environmental sanitation departments of the city began to use water from a wastewater treatment plant.

The Zhuhai government has asked people to drink bottled water and use water thriftily.

The newspaper said Zhuhai had planned to bring water from Zhongshan to resist the salty tide, but the water source in Danzhou, a district of Zhongshan, was also affected by the tide.

So the provincial government and the governments of Zhuhai and Zhongshan decided to bring water from Beijiang River to resist the salty water and ensure the drinking safety of the two cities.

The newspaper said the salty tide was mainly caused by a severe drought in South China since September and a strong astronomical tide at the beginning of the month.

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90% cities face underground water pollution

BEIJING, Dec. 28 (Xinhuanet) -- About 90 percent of Chinese cities are suffering from underground water pollution, a recent survey to the underground water across the country has showed.

Lijun, deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), was quoted by China News Serviceon Tuesday as saying that the pollution of underground water in China is serious.

news service said the pollution in north China is more serious than that of the southern regions, and the pollution causes direct economic looses of tens of billion yuan, or billionsof U.S. dollars, every year, not to mention "countless" indirect losses.

the next 25 years, China's water situation will face enormous pressure under a new round of economic growth. It will bea key period whether China can limit the deterioration of water quality, Zhang was quoted as saying.

water is the source of drinking water for nearly 70 percent of China's population and is the source of some 40 percent of the country's agricultural irrigation, the report said.

news service reported that SEPA launched projects in 2004 to prevent the pollution of underground water and protect drinkingwater.

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China Starts Building Second Largest Hydropower Station

XILUODU, Yunnan Province, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- China on Monday started building its second largest hydroelectric power project in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.

Xiluodu Hydropower Station, the first of four hydropower stations on the Jinsha River, is a major west-to-east electricity transmission project and an important move to develop China's resource-rich but poor western region.

Located in Xiluodu Gorge between Yongshan county of Yunnan Province and Leibo county of Sichuan Province, the project is designed to generate 12.6 million kilowatts of electricity, next only to the Three Gorges Project on the Yangtze.

Electricity generated at Xiluodu station will foster industrial and economic growth in eastern and central China regions.

The station is expected to stem the turbulent Jinsha River in November 2007, and first generating unit will be installed in June 2012.

The entire project will be completed in 2015 and will cost 50.34 billion yuan (6.2 billion U.S. dollars) of static investment.

Besides power generation and water storage, the project is also designed to prevent flood on the unruly Jinsha River, block sand, protect the local environment and facilitate water traffic in the lower reaches of the river.

"The project is launched after three years of preparations in terms of technical planning, environmental protection, water protection, and the relocation of over 7,000 residents in the construction area," said Li Yong'an, general manager of China Three Gorges Project Corporation, the prime contractor of the construction project.

Li said his company has launched a special preservation project to protect rare fish in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River and throughout the construction process, the company will report to State Environmental Protection Administration and the local environment watchdog on any possible impact on the river's ecosystem.

China is also planning for three other hydropower stations in the lower reaches of the Jinsha River, namely, Wudongde, Baihetan and Xiangjiaba stations, in the coming five years. The river's waterpower reserve tops 112 million kilowatts, about 16 percent of China's total.

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Underground water contaminated in cities

BEIJING, Dec. 28 -- A senior environmental official says that Chinese cities face serious underground water contamination.

China News Service on Tuesday quoted Vice minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration, Zhang Lijun, as saying that underground water has been contaminated in about 90 percent of Chinese cities.

Zhang Lijun, vice minsiter of the State Environmental Protection Administration speaks at the press conference on November 24, 2005, on the Songhua River toxic pollution. (Xinhua/file)

minister released the figure at an environmental hearing in Beijing, where experts gathered to discuss underground water pollution problems facing Chinese cities.

at the hearing pointed out that despite China's economic boom and social progressover the past twenty years, but the country still has maintained a traditional industrialization mode that produces heavy pollution with a waste of resources. Such economic growth has brought on a serious ecological and environmental situation, leading to a possible crisis in the country, the news service reported.

water provides drinking water for nearly 70 percent of the whole Chinese population and irrigation for about 40 percent of the farmland, playing a key role in social and economic development, the report said.

environmental hearing in Beijing also indicated that organic compounds and minerals have contaminated most underground water resources in Chinese cities. Cities in northern China have been the most polluted with increasingly more pollutants, causing economic losses worth of dozens of billions of US dollars.

Minister Zhang Lijun said that China shall face an even more severe water problem in the coming 25 years due to the growing economic growth.

is reported that the State Environmental Protection Administration (SDEP) has co-sponsored a national scheme on curbing underground water pollution, and a drinking water resource protection plan.

Lijun said that China will adopt national strategies for the protection of drinking water resources in the country, taking full advantage of the current technologies, with underground water contamination and resources survey data, and in line with relevant laws and regulations in this regard.

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Greenpeace, WWF Slam Moscow Over Toxic Slick, Environment

Published on Tuesday, December 27, 2005 by Agence France Presse
Russia's authorities have came under fire from two prominent ecology groups for the "pathetic" response to a toxic slick that entered Russia's Amur River after an industrial accident in neighbouring China.

"This accident allowed us to check Russia's readiness for action in case of ecological catastrophe. And it proved that the many years of 'reform' within the environment protection services led to pathetic results," Greenpeace and global conservation group WWF said in a joint statement.

"The fairly effective system of state ecology committee has ceased to exist. The agencies that replaced it have very limited authority, insufficient staff and poor material and financial resources."

Greenpeace and WWF claimed that Russia's authorities had disregarded long-standing warnings from local environmentalists about the danger of pollution entering the Amur from connected Chinese waterways.

"Unfortunately, so far it is only the Khabarovsk regional government that is showing the will to act, but it has no authority or resources to act ... to solve the problems of the Amur, which is a river of federal importance," the ecology activists said.

Russia's federal authorities mainly concentrated their efforts on the short-term consequences of the slick as it passed through settlements, such as the city of Khabarovsk, the activists said, adding that there was no evidence of attempts by federal officials to address the ecological damage.

The ecology groups said there was also a lack of information about the slick, which was originally thought to consist of benzene and nitrobenzene but was later found to contain chloroform, chlorbenzene, xilol and other chloric elements.

Greenpeace and WWF suggested Russia set up a joint inquiry with Chinese and Mongolian experts and a monitoring system to analyse the Amur River.

"The main problem is in the lack of an ecological control system. Russia has no federal agency capable of handling ecological problems, both in crisis and on the daily basis. There are no structures capable of holding international ecological policy in dealing with neighboring states," the statement said.

The slick is due to reach the next major town on the river, Komsomolsk-na-Amure, and its 400,000 inhabitants on January 5 and then flow into the Okhotsk Sea.

Much of the benzene that originally entered the river is thought by experts long since to have dissipated.

But nitrobenzene -- an oily, colourless or pale yellow liquid with a characteristic smell of bitter almonds whose effects on people range widely from drowsiness to death and which can effect fertility and liver functions -- could still be present in high quantities, officials say.

The authorities decided Saturday there was no danger to people and the emergency committee handling the crisis was closed.

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Huge market for renewable solar energy

Dec. 27 (Xinhuanet)-- Energy experts predicted that the implementation of the Law on Renewable Resources on January 1, 2006 will open up a huge market in China for renewable solar energy.

new law is expected to boost the development of the country's solar power industry, said the experts.

Law on Renewable Energy, which was approved by the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee in February this year, will encourages all units and persons to use solar energy-based generation systems. It is regarded as an important law for the safety of China's environment and for the development of its energy resources.

from the State Development and Reform Commission (SDRC)said the Chinese government is working on preferential policies to ease energy supply bottlenecks and to make renewable energy a major substitute for coal, oil and natural gas.

with the energy resources bureau of the SDRC said the government will also take steps to promote renewable resources, such as requiring major energy and power companies to buy renewable energy-based products.

energy is developing rapidly worldwide. Over the past 20 years, China's solar-based products have represented about 1 percent of the global market.

started research on solar batteries in 1958. Currently, more than 500,000 solar power generation systems have been installed in China's rural areas and in some remote places, bringing electricity to at least 500,000 families.

observers predict that by the year 2020, renewable energy will account for about 10 percent of China's total energy consumption.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Beijing produces 1,000 tons of X'mas rubbish

PEOPLE in Beijing threw 1,000 tons of Christmas rubbish yesterday, accounting for one ninth of the city's total waste, according to a management committee of civil affairs, Beijing Youth Daily reported today.

"We picked out about 300 to 400 Christmas trees a day, several times more than five years ago. It was not good to the city," said Wu, a member of a major garbage disposal factory.

The garbage, such as Christmas trees, decorations, bulbs, hats, glow sticks, wrappers, cards, even the remainders of the Christmas dinner, may lead to some environmental problems because most of the rubbish cannot be degraded and will damage the ecology of the city.

The newspaper said most of the components of the Christmas rubbish are plastics. Almost all of the Christmas trees in China won't be decomposed, some experts said.

Experts also said the mercury in bulbs on Christmas trees and materials of the light sticks will pollute the water sources of the city.

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China to tackle soil erosion

BEIJING, Dec. 27 (Xinhuanet) -- China has planned to tackle soil erosion of 100,000 square km in 2006, as the country reinforces endeavors to reverse the ecological deterioration.

to statistics with the Ministry of Water Resources, China has carried out many comprehensive projects to tackle soil erosion of 540,000 square km in the past five years. The ecology of the areas along the major rivers has improved greatly.

developers for water conservation and energy projects injected 60 billion yuan (986 million U.S. dollars) on soil erosion treatment over the past five years. Meanwhile, the country has attached great importance to water conservation on new road and railway projects.

the country is still facing a severe situation of new soil erosion. China saw 1.6 billion tons of soil lost in 2004, which equals one-centimeter-thick earth surface on 125,000-square-km land, according to the ministry.

country's total soil erosion land has amounted to 3.6 million square km, accounting for 37 percent of the country's territory

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860 mln rural residents have clean water

HAIKOU, Dec. 27 (Xinhuanet) -- A total of 860 million rural residents in China have been benefited from the improved drinking water supply, which has greatly reduced occurrences of fluorine and arsenic poisoning.

This was disclosed by Qi Xiaoqiu, head of the Disease Prevention and Control Department with the Ministry of Health, at a symposium on public health system construction held recently in this capital city of China's southernmost island province of Hainan.

By 2004, Qi said, tap water was available for about 60 percent of rural households in the country, and approximately 130 million or 53.1 percent of rural households have access to sanitary washrooms.

However, there are still some 300 million people in both urban and rural areas who do not have access to reliable, safe drinking water, Qi added.

Lessons from the disgrace of a pollution campaigner

FOR Xie Zhenhua, the fall from national hero to disgraced official came overnight. For 12 years, he had been a much-admired crusader against pollution. But on December 2, he had to step down because of dereliction of duty. Yes, he had ordered the closure of many plants polluting the nation's rivers and lakes, often in the face of entrenched local protectionism. Yes, he had turned the country's environmental watchdog from being a "toothless" nonentity into a giant that could bite hard. As the former head of the State Environmental Protection Administration, Xie was by no means a "rubber stamp" official. In 2003, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan awarded him the Sasakawa Environment Prize for that year, citing his great zeal and imagination in promoting sustainable growth in China. However, this long-time campaigner in the cause of improving China's environmental health on November 13 missed the precious chance to stop major pollution in a river in Northeast China from worsening. And that proved to be his water-loo. On that day, a blast at a chemical plant on the Songhua River caused severe pollution. As a result, the city of Harbin had to suspend its tap water supply for four days leaving hundreds of thousands of people high and dry. Had Xie acted earlier and done his due diligence, the pollution spill could have been tackled in a more timely manner to say the least. Indeed, although his words and actions had been praiseworthy in the past, he was slow to act in this case. From November 14 to November 17, when toxic chemicals contaminated the river and human life was at risk, no reports were received from Jilin's provincial authorities and this revealed an obvious lack of emergency reaction on the part of the local government. Xie failed to detect the deliberate concealment and thus lost his best opportunity to act promptly. His carelessness, or his blind trust in local reports, cost him, and the health of the river, dearly. The poisonous slick finally passed the city on December 4 and made its way slowly through Heilongjiang Province toward the Russian border despite the freezing weather. The approach of the pollution also rang alarm bells in Russia. The administration "as the main body for environmental protection did not pay enough attention and fell short in its evaluation of the possible severe results arising from the incident. Thus, it holds the responsibility for the losses," said China Central Television. To blame everything on Xie in the case of the Songhua River pollution might be unfair to him. But his resignation shows the sincerity of the central government in disciplining whoever is responsible in one way or another, even a high-ranking official — because the issues at stake are too high. The signal of the central government is clear: No one shall be allowed to overlook the gravity of a pollution incident for even a second. The job of an environment watchdog is around the clock. Anyone in that position must be vigilant all the time, not daring to close his or her eyes and ears for an instant. The anti-pollution campaign needs more than fine words or short-term actions. It needs lifelong devotion. To be sure, Xie's resignation alone won't automatically put an end to pollution. But if we look at Xie's rise and fall from a different angle, he might not be such a tragic character after all. In fact, both his glorious past and a sudden fall have allowed us to see a man of conscience and social responsibility. When he did well, he deserved accolades. When he failed, he admitted generously that he was to blame. Pollution will take generations to be fixed. The one and most important issue in that cause is conscience, a sense of responsibility and the courage to admit errors and to quit. Xie is actually an amiable and easy-going person. Many journalists like to call him "Lao Xie," meaning "Old Xie," a name that is usually used among peers or good friends. You seldom see this kind of appellation in officialdom, as many Chinese officials like to be called by their glossy titles, such as "Minister This" and "Minister That." No one is perfect and not everyone has Xie's courage to quit. Otherwise not only pollution but all the safety problems as we see in one mine blast after another would have been tackled more efficiently. Technorati Tags: , ,

Tibet ecology declines

THE Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, dubbed as the "Roof of the World" is deteriorating environmentally as a result of geological movement, according to a recent official survey. The China Geological Survey Bureau recently released its milestone geological survey on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, saying the environment is getting worse as a result of geological shifts. Geologists also cite drought in lakes, shrinking of glaciers and decrease of grassland as major problems threatening the plateau. The desert on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has expanded to 0.5 million square kilometers with more lakes dried up, now representing about 19.5 percent of the total area. In addition, from the 1970s to 2002, the grasslands decreased by 24.3 percent, while the glacial area also shrank by 147.36 square kilometers each year, said the geologists. The plateau is the cradle of the three main Chinese rivers, the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang. Most of China's civilization emerged in the Yangtze and Yellow river valleys.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Soil erosion blamed on overdevelopment

CHINA lost 1.6 billion tons of soil to erosion in 2004, which equals 1 centimeter's thickness over 125,000 square kilometers of land, the Ministry of Water Resources said yesterday. Overdevelopment and irrational construction projects are the main culprits, environment officials said. The worst soil erosion occurred in the areas of the Yangtze River and the Yellow River, which amounted to 932 million tons and 491 million tons respectively, according to a ministry document on soil conservation. The problem of soil erosion afflicts almost the entire nation, especially the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, the middle section of the Yellow River, the northeastern Heilongjiang Province and the Pearl River Delta, said the ministry. China suffers from some of the world's worst soil erosion. A total of 3.6 million square kilometers of land is being eroded, accounting for 37 percent of the country's territory, said E Jingping, vice minister with the Ministry of Water Resources. "Soil erosion can bring more frequent floods and droughts, undermine the infrastructures and rein in the sustainable development," said E.

Seeking a Public Voice on China's 'Angry River'

XIAOSHABA, China - Far from the pulsing cities that symbolize modern China, this tiny hillside village of crude peasant houses seems disconnected from this century and the last. But follow a dirt path past a snarling watchdog, sidestep the chickens and ducks, and a small clearing on the banks of the Nu River reveals a dusty slab of concrete lying in a rotting pumpkin patch.

The innocuous concrete block is also a symbol, of a struggle over law that touches every corner of the country.

The block marks the spot on the Nu River where officials here in Yunnan Province want to begin building one of the biggest dam projects in the world. The project would produce more electricity than even the mighty Three Gorges Dam but would also threaten a region considered an ecological treasure. This village would be the first place to disappear.

For decades, the ruling Communist Party has rammed through such projects by fiat. But the Nu River proposal, already delayed for more than a year, is now unexpectedly presenting the Chinese government with a quandary of its own making: will it abide by its own laws?

A coalition led by Chinese environmental groups is urging the central government to hold open hearings and make public a secret report on the Nu dams before making a final decision. In a country where people cannot challenge decisions by their leaders, such public participation is a fairly radical idea. But the groups argue that new environmental laws grant exactly that right.

"This is the case to set a precedent," said Ma Jun, an environmental consultant in Beijing. "For the first time, there is a legal basis for public participation. If it happens, it would be a major step forward."

China's leaders often embrace the concept of rule of law, if leaving open how they choose to define it. For many people in China's fledgling "civil society" - environmentalists, journalists, lawyers, academics and others - the law has become a tool to promote environmental protection and to try to expand the rights of individuals in an authoritarian political system.

But trying to invoke the law is risky. Chinese nongovernmental organizations, few of which existed a decade ago, have taken up the Nu as a major cause. But the activism on the Nu and other issues has provoked deep suspicions by the Communist Party even as a broader clampdown against such NGO's has forced some to shut down. The government knows China has a drastic pollution problem and has passed new environmental laws. But top leaders also demand high economic growth and need to increase energy supplies to get it. The "green laws" are becoming a crucible to test which side will prevail and whether ordinary people can take part in the process.

The closed process that led to the Three Gorges Dam is what opponents of the Nu dams most want to avoid. In the late 1980's, a wide range of intellectuals and others tried in vain to force public hearings to discuss the environmental and social costs of a project that has flooded a vast region and forced huge relocations. Ultimately, opponents could only muster a symbolic victory as the final vote in the National People's Congress included an unusually high number of abstentions or nay votes.

The central government is still deliberating how to proceed on the Nu. Domestic media coverage has been banned in recent months. Three central government ministries refused interview requests, as did provincial officials in Yunnan. Local officials along the Nu River, after initially agreeing to an interview, failed to reply to a list of written questions.

Out in the jagged mountains along China's remote southwestern border, villagers in Xiaoshaba gather information about their future from rumors. In early December, a team of surveyors inventoried property and measured the narrow terrace of village farmland along the Nu. Several villagers say local officials have told them that everyone would be relocated around the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday, which ends in early February - even if the dams have not yet been approved.

"If they tell me to move," said one villager, Zhang Jianhua, "I have no other choice."

A Legal Reprieve

In the spring of 2003, a slender, studious man named Yu Xiaogang learned that the hydropower industry was eyeing the rivers of southwestern China. Mr. Yu, an environmental resources manager, knew that China believed that hydropower was a cleaner alternative for its energy shortages and that the Nu was considered one of the country's richest, untapped resources. But he and others believed that the Nu would be untouchable.

The Nu, which translates as Angry River, roars out of the Tibetan Plateau east of the Himalayas and plunges through steep canyons just inside the border with Myanmar, formerly Burma, as it careers south before crossing the border.

In China, it passes through a mountainous region with more than 7,000 species of plants and 80 rare or endangered animals and fish. Unesco said the region "may be the most biologically diverse temperate ecosystem in the world" and designated it a World Heritage Site in the summer of 2003.

"We were very happy because we thought the Nu would be protected and would have no problems," said Mr. Yu, who also led Green Watershed, an environmental NGO.

But not long after the World Heritage designation, a state-run provincial newspaper announced that a public-private consortium planned to build 13 dams on the river. The project would be the largest cascade dam system in the world, and it appeared politically unstoppable.

The majority partner, the China Huadian Corporation, was a state-owned goliath; the local government was a minority partner. In Beijing, the State Development and Reform Commission, a powerful government ministry, had approved the dams in August and planned to present the plan to the State Council, or the Chinese cabinet, for final approval. Construction would begin in September 2003.

The environmental community was blindsided. More than 50,000 people, most of them from ethnic minority hill tribes, would be relocated. The Nu also was one of only two free flowing rivers in China. The State Environmental Protection Administration, or SEPA, the country's environmental watchdog, criticized the project in its official newspaper. But SEPA was considered one of the weakest ministries in the central government.

Then, a snag arose - a bureaucratic delay, hardly uncommon in China. August became September and the proposal had not yet been presented for final approval. During the delay, a new environmental law took effect on Sept. 1. Based on an American model, the China Environmental Impact Assessment Law required comprehensive environmental reviews in the planning stages of major public and private development projects.

Decades of relentless economic growth had left China with dire pollution problems and squandered natural resources. President Hu Jintao had made "sustainable development" a new government mantra. The assessment law gave the environmental agency new powers to handle and approve environmental reviews before a project was approved. It also called for public participation, including hearings, as part of the review, though it did not detail specific guidelines.

But it would take public pressure to force action on the Nu case. Despite its uniqueness and natural beauty, the Nu was not well known, largely because of its isolated location.

In September 2003, an environmental conference in Beijing brought together academics, government environmental officials and NGO's to discuss the Nu. A month later, Pan Yue, the outspoken vice minister of the environmental agency, organized China's first "Green Forum," a public relations event that included Chinese music and film stars.

One person at the forum was a woman named Wang Yongchen, a member of Green Earth Volunteers, an environmental NGO in Beijing. Initially, the Green Earth Volunteers had concentrated on tree planting and teaching children about the environment. But in recent years, the group had participated in efforts to stop a dam proposal in Sichuan Province.

At the forum, Ms. Wang persuaded 62 celebrities and film stars to sign a petition in support of "natural" rivers. She would later donate money to build 30 libraries in poor villages along the Nu.

By early 2004, the controversy had attracted worldwide interest as 60 international organizations agreed to lobby the Chinese government about the Nu. Hundreds of volunteers in China called Unesco to protest the dam proposal. The country's most prominent NGO, Friends of Nature, embraced the cause, while an environmental group in Sichuan collected more than 10,000 signatures to stop the project.

But the crucial factor was the Sept. 1 law. As the project appeared to be nearing approval, biologists, academics and environmentalists all argued that the government had not properly conducted an environmental review.

In late winter, as Ms. Wang guided a tour of Chinese journalists, her cellphone rang. A friend informed her that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had temporarily suspended the project so that it could be "carefully discussed and decided on scientifically."

Ms. Wang began to cry with joy. Later, some Chinese newspapers speculated that Mr. Wen's edict meant that the project was dead.

Mr. Yu thought otherwise.

"I thought this was the first success of public participation," he said. "But I did not think the decision was final."

Opening a Closed Process

Located a short drive from the city of Liuku, Xiaoshaba is like countless poor villages along the Nu. Peasants live in crude homes, some under the same roof as their livestock and chickens. Some villagers have never gone farther than Liuku; some have never left the village. But on a May afternoon in 2004, a bus arrived. Inside was Yu Xiaogang, and he wanted to take villagers on a trip.

The prime minister's order to suspend the project had stunned developers and provincial officials. A delegation had hurried to Beijing to try to restart the process. At the same time, the government's environmental agency focused on the assessment review.

Mr. Yu was anxious to get villagers involved because the law had highlighted public participation. Most villagers knew nothing about the project or how it would change their lives.

"I thought we must let the Nu River people have their voice," Mr. Yu said.

So he offered to take a small group of villagers to the site of the Manwan Dam on the upper reaches of Mekong River in the southern Yunnan. In 2002, Mr. Yu had written an assessment of the social costs of the Manwan project, a report later endorsed by the prime minister at the time, Zhu Rongji. Leaving from Xiaoshaba, Mr. Yu took 14 peasants on a daylong journey to the Manwan, where they found many people living as scavengers.

"They heard how the government made promises but didn't follow through," Mr. Yu said. "Ten years later, nobody cared about them. The Nu River people were shocked."

Mr. Yu later led a small group of peasants to a Beijing hydropower conference jointly sponsored by the United Nations and China's National Development and Reform Commission. As several speakers extolled the virtues of dams, the dusty group of peasants sat in the upper reaches of the auditorium. Mr. Yu was allowed to speak at a sub-session of the conference. The villagers had practiced giving speeches but were not granted a speaking slot.

Meanwhile, momentum seemed to be shifting in favor of dam supporters. Prime Minister Wen had visited Yunnan to confer with provincial officials. Two prominent scholars toured the Nu - on a trip sponsored by dam developers - and attracted wide public attention by attacking the environmentalists.

But that criticism was insignificant compared to a broader governmental crackdown under way against nongovernmental organizations.

In the spring of this year, President Hu ordered an intensive examination of NGO's because of concerns of the role that environmental groups had played in helping to topple governments in Central Asia. In a secret speech to top officials, Mr. Hu warned that the United States was using such groups to try to foment social unrest.

Before, NGO's had hoped that onerous licensing restrictions were about to be repealed. Instead, environmental groups and other NGO's across the country were closely scrutinized, with some losing their licenses. Some groups began to fear that the "legal space" granted to the civil society would be tightened, or closed.

In Yunnan, officials began to pressure opponents. Mr. Yu would not comment about whether he had come under pressure. But acquaintances say he that has been forbidden from traveling to international conferences and that officials have put pressure on him.

In Beijing, the environmental assessment report was finished by this summer. But the Ministry of Water Resources, noting that government reports about international rivers were considered proprietary information, declared a small section of the assessment to be a state secret and forbade its release.

Dam opponents said the section could remain secret but argued that publicizing the rest of the report was essential for public discussion of the project. The government still had not outlined the potential environmental risks or explained what would happen to relocated villagers.

So on Aug. 31, opponents mailed a letter to the State Council and later posted it on the Internet. It cited Chinese law and said any decision without public participation "lacks public support and cannot tolerate history's scrutiny."

Nearly four months later, the government had not responded.

An Uncertain Future

A traffic sign on the narrow, unpaved road that passes through Xiaoshaba carries a propaganda message: "A Model Village for Democratic Rule of Law." A short walk away, beside the concrete block marking the proposed first dam, Guan Fulin, 55, said she had spoken to the surveyors who measured the village land in early December.

"The officials told us it is definitely going to happen," Mrs. Guan said. She trusted that the government would take care of her but admitted that she did not yet know how she would be compensated or where she would go. Pointing to the village, she said, "All these people will be moving."

If so, it would likely signal the start of a hydropower gold rush in Yunnan Province. One study estimated that China might build enough new dams, most of them in Yunnan, to double its hydroelectric output in the next five years. One plan would inundate one of the most popular tourist attractions in China - Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Part of the frenzied hydropower development is driven by the thirst for new energy supplies. But part of it is caused by the breakup of the state monopoly that once controlled electrical generation in China. That breakup left regional state-owned energy giants who were each assigned "assets" - like rivers or coal deposits. Each faces competitive pressures to develop new power plants quickly in order to claim market share.

Mr. Ma, the environmental consultant in Beijing, said environmentalists understood that China faced a complex challenge in developing new energy sources even as it must reduce pollution. But he said this intense pressure to develop was why laws that provide oversight and public review must serve as safeguards.

"Before the Nu River proposal, you would hear about opposition to certain projects," Mr. Ma said. "But it was all based on the tremendous courage of individuals. This time, we see progress in Chinese law that makes it possible for a more systemic challenge."

He added: "There is now more awareness of environmental rights and the rights of people as citizens. For such a major problem, they believe they have the right to know about it and at least have their views heard."

The dispute over the Nu seems at a standstill. Ultimately, the decision on holding hearings may fall to the prime minister. Earlier this year, Unesco issued a statement expressing its "gravest concerns" about the potential damage to the World Heritage Site. In October, environmentalists boycotted a dam conference linked to the National Reform and Development Commission. Organizers had promised to show parts of the assessment report, but environmentalists believed it was an effort to avoid full public hearings.

Ms. Wang, of the NGO Green Earth Volunteers, described the dilemma in simple terms.

"If the law is not enforced, what shall we do?" she asked. "We have this law. Why doesn't this law work?"

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Crisis easing for latest China toxic river spill

Sun Dec 25,10:30 PM ET

A spill of toxic cadmium that sparked China's second major environment scare of the winter should be safely diluted before the fouled river water reaches major cities in the south, the China Daily said on Monday.

Authorities had dumped 380 tonnes of chemicals and opened reservoirs to dilute the more than 1,000 tonnes of cadmium-contaminated water a zinc smelter spilled into the North River on December 15, the newspaper said.

"The cadmium content of the slick dropped 20 percent on Saturday," local environmental protection official Li Zisen was quoted as saying.

Shortly after the accident, cadmium levels in the water surged to nearly 10 times above safety standards, forcing authorities in areas downstream to turn off tap water supplies to tens of thousands of people in Guangdong province.

But tests done over the weekend showed levels of the metallic element, which can cause liver and kidney damage and lead to bone diseases, had dropped to just over safe limits, the China Daily said.

Drinking water emergency measures were still in effect in the booming downstream cities of Guangzhou and Foshan, the newspaper said, though a Guangzhou government spokesman was quoted as denying the city had shut public taps.

The government closed the zinc smelter, China's third largest, along with 14 other smelting plants in Shaoguan city, it said. The smelter's director was relieved of his post on Thursday pending "further investigation into the incident."

In November, an explosion at a chemical plant in China's northeast poisoned drinking water for millions and sent a frozen, poisonous slick heading slowly but surely toward Russia.

China's top environmental minister resigned after the November 13 accident in Jilin province and a vice mayor in charge of evacuating the city where the explosion occurred was said to have hanged himself.

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Toxicity drops in China river pollution spill

AFP Beijing December 25 2005 at 02:13PM- A toxic spill in a south China river is becoming less lethal after officials poured neutralising chemicals into the water, state media said Sunday.

The spill from a state-owned smelting works in Guangdong province on December 15 had threatened water supplies to several cities in the province. Tens of thousands along the Beijiang river in Guangdong lacked drinking water after the smelting works released excessive amounts of cadmium, which can cause neurological disorders and cancer. The Xinhua news agency's Guangdong division said Sunday authorities began pouring iron and alluminum polymer into the upper reaches of the river at the city of Yingde to induce the cadmium to settle at the bottom of the river. By Saturday it had dumped 380 tons of the materials into the water and after testing, found the cadmium level had dropped by 20 percent, Xinhua said. Shoddy maintenance at the smelting works caused the toxic spill and the director of the Shaoguan city smelting works, Zhang Weijian, has been suspended for investigation, the semi-official China News Service said Saturday. According to the news service staff at the factory breached safety rules by using just one day instead of three days to carry out cadmium waste treatment work, causing over 1,000 tons of the toxic discharge to spill into the river. Officials last week had lowered a dam gate and released water from reservoirs upstream in the river to try to slow the flow of the slick or dilute it as it headed towards the metropolis of Guangzhou. Local environmental protection authorities have said the toxic discharge has caused the cadmium level in the river at Shaoguan to surge nearly 10 times safety levels, seriously affecting water quality in the lower reaches. The toxic spill was China's second in as many months after a benzene slick from a factory in northeast China cut tap water to millions of city-dwellers for four days last month. The two spills have focused attention on water pollution in a country where millions still lack safe drinking water and most rivers are polluted by industrial and human waste. State media reports said data collected along the Beijiang river suggested that the density of cadmium has been steadily dropping, but residents living upstream in Yingde city's outlying rural areas said Friday their tap water supply has been cut. In some villages tens of thousands of residents were relying on water supplied by fire engines, residents told AFP. Technorati Tags: , ,

Russia Official Praises China's Pollution Control Efforts

A Russian official on weather and environment has highly praised the efforts China has made in controlling pollution from the Songhua River He said Russia and China have cooperated well in dealing with the pollution accident. He also added that the information China has offered is greatly helping many Russian cities in the treatment of the toxic spill. He expects that the two governments will sign a pact on Songhua River supervision. Explosions at a chemical plant on November 13 in Jilin Province spilled a large amount of nitrobenzene into the Songhua River. The Russian official said the activated carbon provided by China has played an important role in cleaning the water in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk. The Chinese consul general based in Khabarovsk, Fan Xianrong, said on Saturday that the toxic spill from the Songhua River reached Khabarovsk on Thursday and is expected to move out on Tuesday.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

China helps Russian city fight chemical slick

KHABAROVSK, Russia, Dec. 24 (Xinhuanet) -- China will provide an additional 1,000 tons of activated carbon to help Russia fight the chemical slick from China's Songhua River, the Chinese consul general in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk said on Saturday.

  China has already provided Russia with 150 tons of activated carbon and nine chromatographs for testing water samples and informed Russian officials of the trail of the chemical slick on a daily basis, Consul General Fan Xianrong told Xinhua.

A Chinese working group visited Moscow, Khabarovsk and the Jewish autonomous region on Dec. 9-12 to brief Russian officials on the status of the chemical slick and discuss cooperation in monitoring water quality, Fan said.

The chemical spill in the Songhua River was caused by a blast at a petrochemical plant early November in northeastern Jilin province. About 100 tons of benzene, a harmful chemical, are believed to have spewed into the river.

The toxic spill from the Songhua River reached Khabarovsk on Thursday and is expected to move out on Tuesday, Fan said.

Benzene levels in Khabarovsk's rivers have not exceeded the safety norm. Water supply in the city was not affected and residents did not stockpile on bottled water, Fan added

Official: Too Early to Blame CNPC for Pollution

It is still too early to say whether China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) should be penalized for water pollution and the chemical plant explosion in northeast provinces, said the director of China's work safety watchdog Friday.

Li Yizhong, director of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS)said at a press conference that the investigation organized by the State Council is still probing the cause of the accident.

A blast took place on Nov.13 in a chemical plant which is a subsidiary of CNPC in northeast China's Jilin Province. It later spilled large amounts of benzene into the Songhua River, causing a four-day water stoppage in the downstream city of Harbin, capital of neighboring Heilongjiang province.

When the causes for the accident are confirmed, all people directly or indirectly responsible for it should be punished according to the law, said Li, head of the investigation team.

According to a preliminary probe, the accident was caused by operations failure and it was categorized as a work safety accident, he said.

A supervision team sent by SAWS is checking safety conditions in chemical factories along rivers, lakes and seas of the country, mainly in East China's Jiangsu Province, he said.

At an emergency conference held by SAWS ordered 18 major chemical enterprises to check their safety provisions and emergency procedures.

(Source: Xinhua)

Friday, December 23, 2005

2nd spill threatens Chinese cities

Cadmium flows toward home of 7 million people Associated Press

BEIJING — China's government rushed Thursday to shield the country's southern business center, Guangzhou, from a toxic spill of cadmium flowing toward the city of 7 million — the second manmade disaster to hit a Chinese river in six weeks.

Meanwhile, a slick of toxic benzene from the first accident in the north arrived in the Russian city of Khabarovsk, where worried residents flooded a telephone hot line

The twin disasters highlight the precarious state of China's water supplies for industry and homes. Regulators say its major rivers are badly polluted and millions of people lack access to clean water.

The accidents are an embarrassment to President Hu Jintao's government, which vows to clean up environmental damage from China's 25 years of breakneck growth.

Authorities in southern China were dumping water from reservoirs into the Bei River to dilute the cadmium spill from a smelter.

Cadmium is a soft, bluish-white metal found in lead and zinc ores. Exposure to it can cause lung and prostate cancer, kidney damage and bone disease, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The government did not say when the smelter spill would reach Guangzhou, the heart of the region near Hong Kong whose factories supply booming export industries. But the official Xinhua News Agency said city leaders were ordered to "start emergency plans to ensure safe drinking water supplies."

The smelter spill in the south already forced two cities upstream from Guangzhou — Yingde and Shaoguan — to stop using river water, according to state media.

Authorities were preparing to release 200 billion gallons of water from a Shaoguan reservoir to dilute the chemicals, the China Daily newspaper said.

Six weeks ago, a chemical plant explosion spewed benzene and other toxins into a northeastern river, disrupting the water supplies of millions of people and straining relations with Russia.

On Thursday, the benzene spill flowed into the city of Khabarovsk in Russia's Far East. The city of 580,000 people expects to continue to supply running water from the river because chemical levels were stillwithin a safe range.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Khabarovsk unlikely to cut off water supply as benzene sleek nears

KHABAROVSK, December 22 (Itar-Tass) - Russia's far eastern city of Khabarovsk is likely to keep its hot and cold water supply lines working on Thursday afternoon when it will see the front of the incoming benzene sleek - caused by a toxic spill in the Sungari river in China.

The regional commission for emergency situations noted at the previous meeting that the concentration of nitrobenzene does not exceed 0.5 of the maximum permissible value in all sample areas.

No traces of benzene have been found thus far.

Experts estimate that the 90-kilometer stretch of the toxic spill where pollution is at its worst will reach Khabarovsk on Friday. The level of nitrobenzene compounds is unlikely to exceed 0.5 to 0.6 of maximum permissible concentration, because much of the spill has been diluted by Amur tributaries.

The activated coal filters rigged at the main Khabarovsk water intake area, can handle a pollution of up to 2 maximum permissible concentrations.

The benzene sleek will pass Khabarovsk on December 25 and reach the town of Amursk ten days later.

Municipal water intake facilities in southern districts of the city resumed operation on Wednesday evening.

They were turned off because of the threat of pollution through the Kazakevichev channel. The channel was blocked with a 400-meter dam by Wednesday afternoon by Chinese workers, assisted by Russian specialists.

Water supply has been restored in the villages of Krasnaya Rechka and Bychikha. The cutoffs affected some 6,000 residents.

Deputy chairman of the regional emergencies commission Vladimir Popov said the laboratory for monitoring the quality of Amur waters, fielded in the village of Nizhne-Leninskoye, Jewish Autonomous Area, will move to the village of Nergen, Nanai District.

Active monitoring of Amur waters will continue as the benzene spill will move downstream to the Tatar Strait.

Dust discharge remains same as in 1980

BEIJING, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- China's dust discharge has remained the same as in 1980 despite a big increase in installed thermal-power capacity,said a white paper titled "China's Peaceful Development Road" issued by the Information Office of the State Council here on Thursday.

China emphasizes energy saving and has adopted various measures in this regard, said the white paper.

During the 1980-2000 period, China's GDP quadrupled, but the annual consumption of energy only doubled. Its energy consumption of per 10,000-yuan GDP in 2004 dropped 45 percent compared with 1990, it said.

China has made medium- and long-term plans for energy conservation, aiming to keep an annual energy-saving rate of 3 percent by 2020, to save 1.4 billion tons of standard coal.

"China's development is an important component of global development. China has promoted world peace with its own development and made contributions to the progress of mankind." said the white paper.

China has created a miracle by feeding nearly 22 percent of the world's population on less than 10 percent of the world's arable land. The Chinese government has lifted 220 million people out of poverty, and has provided minimum living allowances to 22.05 million urban residents and aid to 60 million disabled people, according to the paper.

In 2004, the world economy reported the swiftest growth in 30 years, while China's economy grew 9.5 percent and became a key driving force for the former, it said.

However, despite gigantic achievements, China still remains thelargest developing country in the world, with a formidable task of development lying ahead, said the white paper.

It pointed out that by the end of 2004, 26.1 million rural Chinese still lived under the poverty line, more than 100 million farmers have to be provided with jobs elsewhere, and the government is obliged to create jobs for nearly 24 million urban and rural residents every year.

"China still needs to make persistent efforts to strive for a peaceful international environment for its own development, and promote world peace and development with its own growth," said thewhite paper. "This is particularly significant for both China and the world as a whole."

New Yangtze dams spell disaster for fish

December 21/2005

by Kelly Haggart and Mu Lan

As the Three Gorges Project Corporation prepares to start work on a string of dams on the Jinsha River (as the upper Yangtze is called), a group of Sichuan University undergraduates has won accolades for a research project that warns of the serious threat the structures pose to the river's wild fish, and the communities that depend on them.

The company building the Three Gorges project has announced that work will begin before the end of this month on Xiluodu, located 1,000 kilometres upstream of Three Gorges and slated to be China's second-largest dam. Construction work is scheduled to start in March on another big dam, Xiangjiaba, and ground will be broken on two further projects Ð Wudongde and Baihetan Ð in the next few years.

The four new hydropower stations will have a combined installed capacity of 38.5 million kilowatts, twice the generating power of Three Gorges.1 Apart from producing power, the projects are designed to tackle a serious problem facing the Three Gorges reservoir: They are meant to help block silt and prevent the dangerous buildup of sediment behind the Three Gorges dam.

The projects will also fulfill another function, absorbing some of the construction workers and equipment that will be made redundant as work winds down at the Three Gorges site.

But environmental groups have warned that the new dams could wipe out fish species whose migration routes to traditional breeding grounds will be blocked. Subjecting these concerns to scientific scrutiny, 13 students from Sichuan University's Environmental Protection Volunteer Association conducted intensive fieldwork in the region between July 2004 and February 2005. They concluded that as many as 60 fish species could be driven to extinction after construction of the four dams, especially Xiluodu and Xiangjaba. Species under threat include the endangered Chinese sturgeon (Zhonghua xun), white sturgeon (bai xun), Yangtze (or Dabry's) sturgeon (dashi xun) and rouge fish (yanzhi yu).

The students also drew attention to the fact that the dams are to be built in an area that had been set aside as a national rare-fish conservation zone. In 1987, the State Council designated a 500-km section of the river between Hejiang and Leibo counties as the National Yangtze Rare Fish Reserve Zone. Under China's Environmental Protection Act (Section 3, Article 17), which came into force in December 1989, no industrial enterprises or infrastructure projects likely to cause environmental damage can be built in scenic spots, nature reserves or other special areas designated by the central or provincial governments.

To get around this barrier, the Three Gorges Project Corp. asked the State Council to redraw the boundaries of the conservation area to exclude the heart of the zone Ð the stretch of the river between the future Xiluodu and Xiangjiaba dams.

The State Council agreed to the request in April 2005, relocating the protected fish zone to an area downstream of Xiangjiaba, thus clearing the way for the dams to be built.

The fish, meanwhile, haven't moved -- and, indeed, species cannot be shifted without consequence from a niche carved out over millennia. The new reserve zone is a bit bigger than the original area, but the extra space will be no consolation to the fish, the students pointed out. The original zone reflected the true boundaries of the traditional breeding and feeding grounds of rare species such as the white sturgeon and Yangtze sturgeon.

In a recent article, Prof. Chen Guojie, senior researcher at the Chengdu Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, also warns that the spawning zones of such species will be almost totally obliterated if Xiangjiaba is built. Furthermore, the new dams will bring about changes to the river regime Ð altering water velocity and temperature, and sedimentation patterns Ð that will have a major impact on the species' new habitat, and their chances of survival in it.

The Sichuan University students focused their research in the rare-fish reserve zone, as originally designated, in the section of the Yangtze between Hejiang (150 km upstream of Chongqing) and Leibo counties. Under the guidance of their professors and experts from other research institutes, they interviewed officials, scientists, engineers, fishermen, restaurant owners and local residents. They interviewed 108 people in all, and visited more than 20 government agencies involved in environmental protection, and water and fishery management. They also went to fish markets and restaurants to find out what was being bought, sold and consumed.

The students' work recently won recognition in the form of a Ford Motor Company conservation and environmental grant. The theme of this year's Ford grants to Chinese environmental groups and researchers was water conservation, and the Sichuan University student group has received 10,000 yuan (US$1,200) to pursue further research. The awards committee, which included Qu Geping, former director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration, praised the students for their comprehensive project.

At the awards ceremony in Beijing last month, another grant recipient, Prof. Yu Xiaogang of the Yunnan-based Green Watershed environmental group, commended the Ford panel for choosing water conservation as its overarching theme this year, showing that "it has seen the important link between water resources conservation and China's efforts to achieve sustainable development and build a harmonious society."

The students found that human activities, particularly dam-building, have already led to a precipitous decline of rare fish in the Yangtze River. For example, the 2,000-km stretch of the river from Leibo county in Sichuan province to Jiujiang city downstream in Jiangxi province was once teeming with white sturgeon, which is classified as highly endangered both on China's own national list and on that of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). But since the Yangtze was blocked for the first time by the Gezhouba dam in 1981, and the sturgeon cut off from their traditional spawning grounds upstream, they are now rarely seen.

Overfishing and illegal fishing have also helped to decimate rare-fish populations in the original reserve zone, the students found. To increase their haul, local fishermen use nets that catch ever smaller fish, and drive speedboats into shoals of fish and shock them with electric instruments. The local fishery management agency, equipped only with old, slow patrol boats, has a hard time policing the illegal practices.

Consumption habits are also a problem. Years ago, fishermen would throw the young fish in their catch back into the river so they would have a chance to grow and spawn. But now local residents have developed a taste for younger fish, as restaurants owners keep telling them that smaller fish are tastier.

According to the revised boundaries approved by the State Council, the new rare-fish reserve zone will cover the section of the Yangtze from Yibin downstream to Chongqing, along with the lower reaches of the Min River and a small section of the Chishui River near where it joins the Yangtze.

Experts have repeatedly urged that the whole of the Chishui River as it flows through Guizhou and Yunnan provinces should be included in the protection zone. Although the central government has yet to decide on that issue, Prof. Yu of Green Watershed says there is one piece of good news for the river: The Canadian International Development Agency has earmarked 50 million yuan (US$6.25 million) for a Chishui valley management project, which, it is hoped, could help keep new dams at bay.

But could China's national liquor turn out to be the real saviour of the Chishui River? Guizhou provincial officials have pledged not to allow dam-building on their section of the Chishui because the Maotai Liquor Company, which draws water from the river, has promised to pay more local taxes if the river Ð and its water quality Ð is kept undisturbed.

However, neither Canadians nor Maotai drinkers are likely to be able to save the Chishui valley from dam development. Downstream in Yunnan province, the Yudong dam has already been built, and more dams are planned as part of that province's ambitious hydro development plans. Thus, even with part of the Chishui included in the fish protection zone, disturbances elsewhere on the river appear set to steamroll ahead.

Guangzhou ready for water suspension

GUANGZHOU has got ready for a possible water supply suspension, under a threat of a contaminated flow by cadmium in the Beijiang River, the Beijing News said today. Guangzhou's waterworks have increased the reserve of their pools and reservoirs to extend water supply, if they are ordered to halt production. The provincial capital city government also prepared some notices to inform its more than 10 million residents, if the likely water supply cut comes true, the newspaper said. The toxic slick of cadmium was blamed on the excessive waste discharges from a smeltery in Shaoguan City, Guangdong Province. Yingde City, which is about 90 kilometers south of Shaoguan, has begun to build a 1.4-kilometer pipeline that connects to a reservoir to receive fresh water directly from it. The slick arrived in Yingde on Tuesday. The Guangdong provincial government has ordered the smeltery to stop operation and shut the waste water outlet, and ordered Guangzhou and Foshan cities to start emergency plans to provide safe drinking water to residents. This incident in south China followed water supply suspension in northeastern Heilongjiang Province last month. A chemical plant exploded in Jilin, polluting the Songhua River and threatening the drinking water safety of the cities along the river, including Harbin

Podcast:China's Rapid Development and the Environment

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Talk of the Nation, December 21, 2005 · Critics say that China's rapid economic growth leads to pollution in the air and water, and leaves mountains of untreated waste. In one recent incident, an explosion at a Chinese chemical plant spilled benzene into a major river, cutting off the water supply to thousands. As part of an ongoing series on China in the 21st century, experts and guests examine the country's environmental record.


Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations; author of The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future


Wednesday 21 December 2005 12:31 Via Department for Environment, Food And Rural Affairs of UK

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett today welcomed a UK/China landmark agreement on the development of clean coal technology with carbon dioxide capture and storage, which aims to reduce significantly the climate change impact from coal-fired electricity generation.

The project aims to demonstrate coal-fired power generation with carbon capture and storage technology in both China and the EU by 2020. It comes at a time when estimates show that carbon dioxide emissions from China's increasing coal use are growing rapidly.

The UK is leading the first phase of the demonstration project with £3.5m of funding from Defra and DTI. The three-year feasibility study will examine the viability of different technology options for the capture of carbon dioxide emissions from power generation for geological storage in China.

Commenting on the announcement, Mrs Beckett said:

"The agreement demonstrates that the UK and China are working together on action to combat the global challenge of climate change. This agreement strengthens the work that the UK has been doing with China on climate change both directly and through the EU, and is another example of the excellent progress made this year through our G8 and EU presidencies.

"Carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power generation are growing rapidly and represent a serious challenge to the long-term stability of the climate. Carbon capture and storage technology have a key role to play in abating this impact and I strongly welcome today's agreement."

Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King formally signed the agreement in Beijing with Minister Xu Guangha, from the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, which signals the start of the first phase of the near Zero Emissions Coal (nZEC) project.

Sir David said: "I am delighted to have been able to sign this important agreement, which marks a new level of international cooperation in the practical demonstration of what I believe to be a critical technology in meeting the challenge of climate change."

Toxic Waste Discharged Into River in Southern China

Second Such Crisis in Month Forces Water Service Halt in One City, Threatens Others

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 22, 2005; Page A24

BEIJING, Dec. 21 -- A zinc smelter discharged toxic waste into the Beijiang River in southern China last weekend, forcing one city to order a day-long suspension of water supplies and threatening other cities as the pollution moved downstream, residents and official news media reported Wednesday.

The discharge, which authorities said contained high levels of cadmium, marked China's second environmental crisis in a month. An explosion at a chemical plant in northeastern Jilin province in November sent 100 tons of toxic benzene floating down the Songhua River and caused water service to be cut off for several days in the nearby city of Harbin.

The disasters underlined growing difficulties in maintaining environmental and industrial safety in China. With a booming economy, the Beijing government is having trouble getting growth-minded local officials to enforce environmental and safety regulations.

A resident contacted by telephone in Shaoguan, in the far northern section of southern Guangdong province, said water was cut off all day Tuesday. The taps began running again about 5 p.m., she added.

The official Guangdong television station warned residents at certain points downstream not to drink tap water drawn from the river, which runs about 300 miles southward through the heavily industrialized province until it spills into the Pearl River.

In Yingde, a city of 1 million people 60 miles south of Shaoguan, officials started building a mile-long water pipeline to connect the threatened downtown area with a suburban reservoir isolated from the river-borne pollution, the official New China News Agency reported.

An unnamed government official told the agency that the pipeline should be completed before the polluted waters reach the city distribution system, which is expected to be sometime Thursday. In addition, he said, fire engines and other tanker trunks have been mobilized to carry water to the downtown area, and upstream reservoirs have released water into the river to dilute the pollution.

Environmental protection officials blamed the crisis on waste discharged by a smelter in Shaoguan. The waste, they said, contained up to 10 times the safe level of cadmium, a metal that can damage internal organs and cause cancer.

The official television broadcast Tuesday night said authorities had ordered the plant on Sunday to halt its discharge. But there was no explanation as to why the waste being disposed of contained an unusual amount of cadmium.

The smelter's state-owned parent company, Shenzhen Zonglin Lingnan Nonferrous Metal Co. Ltd., told the Reuters news agency that it was working with environmental officials to control the spill. It suggested that other chemical factories in and around Shaoguan might also have played a role in causing the pollution.

S. China cities to deal with possible water crisis

GUANGZHOU, Dec. 21 (Xinhuanet) -- The southern Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Foshan were ordered Wednesday by local provincial government to soon start emergency plans to ensure safe drinking water supplies to their residents as a toxic slick approaches.

river pollution was caused by an excessive discharge of cadmium from a state-owned smeltery in the Beijiang River, a majorsource of drinking water for cities in the northern part of south China's Guangdong Province.

local environmental protection departments found in the smeltery in Guangdong's Shaoguan City that the excessive discharge of waste has made the volume of cadmium in the river section of Shaoguan surge nearly 10 times above the safety standard, "seriously affecting" the water safety in the river's lower reaches.

smeltery has halted operation and closed the waste water outlet blamed for excessive discharge, according to the environment protection office of Shaoguan City.

governments along the Beijiang River have set up 20 monitoring posts to keep a close watch on the water quality.

density of cadmium kept dropping after the local governments began diluting the polluted water by increasing the discharge of the water reservoirs at Beijiang's upper reaches, according to environmental protection experts.

forecasted that the diluted water will likely not threaten the drinking water source for the downstream cities of Foshan and Guangzhou. Nevertheless, the two cities have been askedto start emergency plans to ensure safe drinking water.

Lijun, deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, arrived Tuesday at Yingde, which is about 90 km south of Shaoguan, with a group of 14 experts on environmental protection, city water supplied, agriculture and health to deal with the possible water crisis.

toxic click arrived at Yingde, a city of more than 100,000 urban residents, Tuesday night.

has begun to build a 1.4-km-long water pipe linking with the supply line of a reservoir in a suburb to send clean water directly to the urban district.

large quantity of water carriers, including 15 fire engines, have been used to send drinking water to the urban district.

far, local people's lives remains normal along the 470-km-long Beijiang River, which runs from north to south into the Zhujiang (Pearl) River flowing through Guangzhou, according to the provincial environmental protection department.

is a soft, bluish-white metallic element occurring primarily in zinc, copper, and lead ores, that is easily cut with a knife and is used in low-friction, fatigue-resistant alloys, solders, dental amalgams, nickel-cadmium storage batteries, nuclear reactor shields, and in rustproof electroplating.

is the second major water pollution incident in China in recent days.

chemical plant blast on Nov. 13 in Jilin City of northeast China's Jilin Province resulted in a serious leakage of poisonous substances of cancer-causing benzene and nitrobenzene into the Songhua River, which forced a four-day water cut-off to Harbin, capital of neighboring Heilongjiang Province.

workers successfully dammed a waterway in the Heilongjiang River Wednesday morning before the chemical spill arriving at the Russian city downstream.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

UPDATE: Toxic spill pollutes water in southern China

Shanghai. December 21. INTERFAX-CHINA - A toxic chemical dumped from a metals plant into a river in southern China has contaminated drinking water in a city with more than a million residents, the local government said.

A government-owned lead and zinc smelter pumped a dangerous amount of the chemical cadmium into the Bei River in the city of Yingde in Guandong Province on December 15, according to the government announcement that came Tuesday. Cadmium waste is the secondary product from lead and zinc smelting.

The river feeds into the Pearl River that passes through the major city of Guangzhou and on towards Hong Kong.

The local TV station warned Yingde residents last night against drinking the tap water due to the toxic contamination, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

"I was warned when I prepared to buy a packet of cigarette in a convenience store," a policeman surnamed Zhong in Yingde told Interfax Wednesday, "and then I bought several bottles of water."

Zhong said the citizens in Yingde are calm and there has not been any panic buying of bottled water.

The local government said the most serious pollution had already passed Shaoguan, which is upstream of Yingde, Li Huaping, a director at a Shaoguan-based state-own steel mill, who attended an emergency meeting yesterday held by the local government, said.

The Guandong Province's environmental protection bureau said officials were scrambling to dilute the cadmium to drinkable levels by opening reservoirs, as the initial cadmium reading was 10 times above the safety level.

"A emergency group led by our Chief Director Li Qing has set off to Shaoguan and Yingde," an administrative official, who declined to give his name, at the environmental protection bureau of Guangdong Province said.

However, officials from provincial and local environmental protection bureaus refused give more details about the pollution.

The governments of Yingde, Shaoguan and Qingyuan were in the process of delivering drinking water to citizens and trying to contain the pollution.

The state-owned smelter, Shaoguan Smelter, is responsible for the spill, the environmental protection bureau said. The smelter, the third largest in China, illegally discharged the cadmium-containing wastewater during an overhaul of equipment, the state-run Guangzhou Daily said on Wednesday.

"It's hard to say who is responsible, since our smelter is not the only lead and zinc producer located there," a Board director with Shenzhen listed Zhongjin Lingnan Non-ferrous Metal Co. Ltd., which owns the smelter, told Interfax.

Zhongjin Lingnan's stock was suspended trading Wednesday without an explanation.

"We will release an announcement on the stock exchange tomorrow," the director, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

Cadmium is known to accumulate in the human kidney for a relatively long time, about 20 to 30 years, and can impact the respiratory system and has been associated with bone disease.

The disease named Itai-itai .is caused by cadmium pollution and was generally recognized since the 1950's by the efforts of inhabitants in the cadmium polluted Jinzu River basin in Toyama Prefecture, Japan.

The water pollution comes after a huge chemical spill in northern China's Songhua River last month that caused the government to shut off water to residents in the city of Harbin for several days. The toxic spill also moved across the border with Russia and threatened water supplies there.

Li Huaping said the steel maker's production had not been impacted by the water pollution since the water supply for production and living is sourced from another river.