09/10/2007, 00.00
CHINA

Beijing concealing water pollution figures fearing total havoc

Top official says test results show that most rural areas and major cities lack clean drinking water. The situation has been getting worse over the past few decades with little done to stop the decline. Obsession with economic growth is blamed. A trillion yuan will be spent to clean up rivers and lakes to ensure clean drinking water.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese authorities have not released to the mainland public the latest survey results which suggest that more than 450 drinking water sources in key national environmental protection cities could not meet the standards; the reason: fear that data might cause total havoc. The authorities are however planning to invest at least a trillion yuan (US$ 133 billion) over the next five years to secure drinking water sources.

Zheng Binghui, director of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences' Institute of Water Environment, made the statement yesterday. He said that whilst the exact budget amount was under discussion, targeted rivers include the Huai, the Hai and the Liao and lakes Tai, Chao and Dianchi, which alone feed half of the provinces on the mainland.

Dr Zheng noted that in 1998 the failure rate was more than 83 per cent, according to studies carried out by his institute. More recent data show that the situation is even worse so much so that the figures reported to the central government are classified. The Xinhua news agency is instead obliged to publish official figures to avoid scaring the population.

The situation is also very serious in rural areas. In Anhui province only 47.7 per cent of river-type water sources meet national standards. In Jiangsu province the rate is 30.7 per cent. And nearly half of the underground water sources in Shanxi were not suitable for drinking.

Overall, 75 per cent of all lakes show excessive nutrient levels, which are source of algal outbreaks, reducing the amount of drinking water and killing lake fauna.

For example, “the drinking water sources in the Three Gorges Reservoir tributaries are in danger,” Zheng said.

Pan Yue, deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, announced at an environmental forum that policies on how to use business incentives to curb pollution will be implemented.

But this in itself is not sufficient. Usually, environmental rules and regulations are poorly enforced, especially by local authorities who favour industrial development.

“In Hubei province, investigations showed that unauthorised construction existed in 23 water source protection zones,” Zheng said.

"In Ningxia, in a centralised drinking water source protection zone there are 73 enterprises with . . . annual ammonia emissions of 1,023 tonnes."

Pan said a mechanism should be created to centralise the management of forests, water, grasslands and land because the existing fragmented approach was inefficient.

What is more, for a long time data relating to economic growth have not factored in the environmental costs of industrial development.

Liu Fuyuan, former vice-president of the National Development and Reform Commission's Macroeconomic Research Academy, said the government was still obsessed with GDP, despite calls for sustainable development and a green GDP. This in his opinion “is a big tragedy.”

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