China official warns environmental needs neglected
By Andrew Yeh in Beijing
Published: February 16 2006 11:15 | Last updated: February 16 2006 11:15
Local governments in China are investing heavily in trophy construction projects while neglecting a basic need for environmental infrastructure such as wastewater treatment systems, a senior Chinese official said on Thursday.
Qiu Baoxing, vice-minister for construction, reported that some 230 of the 600 or so Chinese cities surveyed by the government did not have adequate wastewater treatment networks.
“This means polluted water in these cities is discharged directly [into waterways] causing tremendous harm to the environment,” he said.
Mr Qiu’s remarks suggest local governments and developers around the country are overinvesting in showy real estate projects while ignoring rudimentary environmental requirements for densely populated cities.
China is in the midst of a historic building effort. The Ministry of Construction estimates that around 2bn sq m of new floor space is being built each year in the country, accounting for nearly half the world total.
But Mr Qiu warned there is a glaring divide between local construction booms representing present economic wealth and the need for a longer-term environmental planning.
In many cities, for instance, there is a shortage of underground sewage pipes even though there are wastewater treatment centres, said Wang Tiehong, a senior ministry engineer. Beijing is also devising a plan to raise capacity for the disposal of solid waste in its cities.
“The main problem is the urban planning mindset of local government officials,” said Mr Qiu. “First we must have preventive controls for water pollution. This way, if they do not follow guidelines, local governments can be punished.”
Demand for urban wastewater treatment is likely to create opportunities for foreign environmental companies. Suez, the French industrial group, said last week it plans to double its sales in greater China to nearly €1bn in two years time. “Our foot is on the accelerator,” Yves-Thibault de Silguy, a Suez executive, said in AFP.
China is notorious for water shortages and its toxic rivers. A string of industrial water pollution accidents, including the benzene spill by a state oil company into the northern Songhua River late last year, have renewed concerns in Beijing that environmental infrastructure and accountability are lacking.
“The worst is yet to come, judging by the increased frequency of serious pollution incidents,” Zhou Shengxian, the country’s top environment official, was quoted by Xinhua as saying this week.