02/16/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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Pollution fuels social protests

According to SEPA, widepread pollution and environmental disasters lead to discontent and protests in rural areas. More severe controls are in the pipeline but at least 15 years are needed to remedy the situation.

Beijng (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Increased pollution and growing number of environmental disasters in China are a source of discontent and of thousands of protests in rural areas, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) has warned.

Zhou Shengxian, SEPA director, said China was facing the worst pollution in its history and this was sparking social protests. On 14 February, the State Council announced further measures to rein in pollution but the SEPA has estimated that at least 15 years are needed to tackle the problem.

The advent of industrial development did not take environmental impact into account and making up for this will be a lengthy and costly exercise, at times involving the dismantling of entire plants. Last week, Pan Yue, the vice-director of SEPA, indicated 11 factories on river banks and 10 highly polluting and dangerous projects and another 127 petrochemical plants to be examined, in which 450 billion yuan were invested.

SEPA started to tackle the problem already in 2005, but without making substantial progress. For example, in January 2005, 30 important industrial projects were stopped because they did not have necessary environmental approval. But the projects were resumed after a short time.

"Last year we focused on correcting procedural irregularities but the campaign this year is aimed at pushing for the long- ignored green assessment of project designs and encouraging public involvement, while," said Mu Guangfeng, SEPA official.

Most big plants are regarded as posing serious environmental threats because of their proximity to major waterways or densely populated areas, said Mu. Incidents which have taken place frequently of late, like the explosion in November at the petrochemical plant in Jilin and consequent spill of tons of polluting substances in Songhua River, revealed the grave risk posed by these plants.  But local authorities, especially those in coastal areas were reluctant to collaborate with SEPA, continued Mu, for fear that environmental protection could lead to the elimination of advantageous industrial projects. According to official data, more than 70% of rivers and lakes are polluted, 400 out of 600 large cities do not have enough water and 300 million peasants drink polluted water.

Pilot environmental projects will be set up in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, and the cities of Dalian and Wuhan.

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