Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Yangtze, China’s longest waterway, is so polluted that all life it contains is at risk of extinction, this according to a report released by the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology (NIGLAS) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in association with the World Wildlife Organisation and the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission. The river, which is also the world's third longest, represents 35 per cent of the country’s total fresh water resources. And the disaster is of such magnitude that much of the damage “is largely irreversible.”
For NIGLAS Director Yang Guishan, more than 600 kilometres of the Yangtze River and nearly 30 percent of its major tributaries—Minjiang, Tuojiang, Xiangjiang and Huangpu —are critically polluted.
Pollution, damming, heavy traffic, pesticides, fertilisers, sewage and freshwater use have caused a dramatic decline in Yangtze aquatic life. Rare species like the Baiji or white-flag dolphin, which had survived for 20 million years, are thought to be functionally extinct since none have been found in the most recent research expeditions. Even common species like the carp are gasping for survival, the report said.
The river's annual fish catch dropped from 500,000 tons in the 1950s to about 100,000 tons in the 1990s. Given the situation the absence of more recent official data is highly significant. And algae growth has become another major problem.
“Fishermen along the river said even if they catch some fish from the polluted river, they dare not eat them,” said Li Lifeng, freshwater programme director of the WWF China.
Official data indicate that cities along the river annually dump at least 14.2 billion tonnes of waste into the waterway. Altogether more than 26 billion tons of wastewater, sewage and industrial waste, are pumped into the river.
During the report’s presentation on the week-end in Changsha (Hunan), Water Resources Minister Wang Shucheng said that the Yangtze’s problems could negatively affect the sustainable development of its delta area which accounted for 40 per cent of China's gross domestic product in 2005.
For experts the fact that the authorities are realising the seriousness of the problem is in itself something new; however, they also believe that the situation is actually worse than thought.
The Yangtze and Yellow River basins are home to some 11,000 thousand industrial plants. (PB)