07/05/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Beijing incapable of enforcing its own environmental laws

Environmental degradation is accelerating in China. In Jiangsu millions of people were left without drinking water for a month. In Guangzhou acid rain is falling, affecting the harvest. The State Environmental Protection Administration is complaining that local authorities protect industrial polluters whilst Beijing does nothing to stop them.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – With acid rain falling on Guangzhou (Guangdong) and high pollution levels in drinking water in Jiangsu, official statements that china is adopting appropriate measures to fight environmental degradation in both rural and urban areas seem moot at best. The reality is that pollution is killing hundreds of thousands of people at a staggering cost for China’s economy and society.

According to weather experts, Guangzhou saw only acid rain in the first three months of this year because of high levels sulphur dioxide emissions from factories and cars. 

Wu Dui, a researcher with the Guangzhou Research Institute of Tropical Oceanic Meteorology, said acid rain had fallen more than 70 per cent of the time in Guangzhou since 2000. He said acid rain had affected agricultural output, construction materials and historical sites. According to one report, acid rain cost the province annual losses of 4 billion yuan (US$ 535 million) between 1996 and 2000.

But just this Monday more than 200,000 people in Shuyang County (Jangsu) had their drinking water supplies cut off after water started coming out tainted with a dark, smelly substance. The local water source, the Xinyi River, was polluted by upstream industrial waste released by chemical plants in Shandong, Xinhua reported Supply resumed noon yesterday only after water from Anhui's Hongze Lake was channelled into the river to dilute ammonia-nitrogen levels and bring them down to the national standard.

In another case an algal outbreak in Jiangsu’s Tai Lake left more than 2 million people in Wuxi (Jiangsu) without clean tap water for days last month.

Altogether about 460,000 mainlanders die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air and drinking dirty water, according to a World Bank study

Experts note that this happening despite a three-year nationwide campaign by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).

SEPA’s Deputy Director Pan Yue has only been able to act in isolated cases without much improvement. Regulatory actions and crackdowns on industrial pollution have been short-lived due to pressure from the mainland's powerful political and business interest groups

“Crackdowns [on single wrongdoers] will not solve real problems without the backing of our political and legal systems,” he told the China Youth Daily.

Mr Pan said the fight against water pollution has “become a severe test of the government's ability to rule, carry out macroeconomic-control policies and promote social harmony.”

Wang Canfa, an environmental expert at the China University of Political Science and Law, said that all “we have seen in the past few years has been one temporary [anti-pollution] measure after another” in reaction to real-life disasters. Instead we “need to set up a feasible mechanism to normalise what SEPA has been trying to do over the years."

Huo Dishpan, an environmental activist monitoring pollution on the Huai River, said that Beijing's determination to clean up pollution has failed to be translated into action at the local level. The fight against pollution cannot be successful without public participation, but the public has hitherto been let down by local authorities who have often ignored laws and regulations which supported public involvement in making major decisions. (PB)

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