12/14/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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Some 60 per cent of the Yellow River, the cradle of Chinese civilisation, is dead

Tens of thousands of chemical plants discharge deadly toxic waste into the river. The country is suffering from economic development that has “sacrificed the environment”.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – About 60 per cent of the Yellow River's water is now unfit to drink, reflecting the worsening pollution of China’s domestic hydro resources as a result of an lop-sided urban and industrial development.

Only 40 per cent of the 5,464 km-long river, the second in length in the country, can be categorised as level three in a five-level evaluation system for water quality, says an annual report by the Yellow River Water Resources Commission.

“Level three means the water is tolerable for drinking, which means it's still safe to drink after certain treatment,” said Ma Jun, head of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing. However, more than 36 per cent of the river was categorised as level five—the lowest grade—the report said.

The river runs through nine northern provinces and provides water to 155 million people and 15 per cent of the country's farmland. Last year it had to absorb the discharge of 4.35 billion tonnes of waste water. Discharges rose by 88 million tonnes year on year. More than 73 percent of the waste water was discharged from factories, 298 million tons more than last year.

What is more, once known as the cradle of early Chinese civilisation, the river is drying up despite efforts to conserve water use and increase its flow. Only 20.4 billion cubic metres of the river's water reached the Bohai Sea last year, almost the same as the previous year, despite efforts to divert water into it and higher water prices for consumers.

Early last week, a local newspaper reported that a paper company in Lanzhou (Gansu Province) discharged 2,500 tonnes of waste water a day into the Wanchuan Creek, a tributary of the Yellow River. The reddish brown waste water floated down the creek for more than 40 kilometres producing an irritating smell.
Some 21,000 chemical factories are believed to be located along
China's rivers and coastline—more than half on the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. At the beginning of the year, the country's environment chief, State Environmental Protection Administration Director Zhou Shengxian, warned that more than 100 of those chemical plants posed safety threats. For him the situation is due to the blind rush to economic development by local officials across the nation. In its first ten years, the People’s Republic of China favoured economic growth over the environment.

The situation has worsened as a result of rapid urbanisation which has often occurred without much concern for waste disposal. It is estimated that 400 of China’s 662 cities face water shortage problems and about 100 are in serious trouble.

According to the Ministry of Water Resources, more than 70 billion tons of wastewater were released last year, with about 45 billion tons pumped into lakes and rivers without any treatment. The result is that more than 70 per cent of the nation's rivers and lakes are polluted.

Over 300 million people in rural areas do not have adequate clean drinking water. As a result, hundreds of thousands are afflicted with various diseases from drinking water that contains too much fluorine, arsenic, sodium sulphate or bitter salt, revealed Wang Shucheng, minister of Water Resources.

Matters have been made worse by a series of industrial accidents. A year ago for example, an explosion at a chemical plant in Jilin caused a major toxic spill in the Songhua river cutting off water supplies to millions of people ever hundreds of kilometres. (PB)

 

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