China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Fighting against dirty water


Just when you think China's water pollution problem couldn't get any worse, another chemical spill occurs, tainting citizens' drinking water, not to mention putting at risk the health of many animal and plant species.

About two weeks ago, a local chemical company polluted the northeastern province of Jilin in a tributary of the Songhua River with the chemical xylidine.

After an explosion at a chemicals plant last November, the same area was contaminated by 100 tons of benzene and other toxic chemicals, shutting-off the water supply to millions of people.

The incident was mismanaged from the outset, which did not help efforts to contain the problem.

Although the recent spill was contained and treated, the question must be asked why do incidents like this keep happening?

The answer lies in the fact that some local government officials are more concerned with maintaining rapid economic growth than fulfilling their roles as environmental stewards.

As China continues to be plagued by industrial incidents that contaminate its rivers, subsequent cover-ups of environmental incidents and corruption associated with environmental issues, China's environment watchdog, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) recently announced it would create a national network of 11 environmental monitors that will report directly to SEPA in an effort to stamp out cover-ups and corruption.

In addition to this new monitoring system, re-education campaigns aimed at local governments should be pursued in order to teach officials that development isn't just about gross domestic product (GDP) figures and that economic growth will be cancelled out by growing environmental costs.

Another strategy to avoid the mismanagement of environmental incidents would be to encourage the local media to promptly report on any environmental damage happening in their areas. This would increase accountability and help prevent practices such as the illegal dumping of chemicals into rivers from occurring.

The quality of China's urban water supply has also been in the news recently, with China's Vice-Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing saying China's urban water quality was worsening due to among other things agricultural pollution, waste water discharge in cities and industrial effluent.

Recently, the China Disease Prevention and Control Centre also said that outdated technologies from the beginning of the 20th century were still being used at most of China's waterworks.

In an attempt to remedy the situation the government has pledged US$125 billion to improve water quality over the next five years. The money will be put towards building desalinization plants and new sewage treatment works, while replacing decrepit pipes.

As China's water pollution problems heighten, it is timely that Beijing is hosting this month's World Water Conference.

The conference provides China with a great platform to air its water concerns, giving 3,000 experts and professionals the chance to offer solutions to some of its problems.

China must ensure discussions with its foreign counterparts on the current water crisis is high on the agenda and be open to offers of foreign assistance and expertise, as an effective way to solve such a vast problem will be through a united effort and a pooling of resources.

An inherent lack of co-ordination between water administrative departments of various levels must be resolved, with SEPA taking a more active approach in co-ordinating the various departments.

Central and local governments and all related departments are battling the same problem and the benefits of a united approach are numerous. What must be made clear to the Chinese Government is that the sharing of research, information and resources will bring about faster results

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