07/13/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Strict anti-pollution measures to save algae-infested lakes

Actions are taken to rescue three lakes invaded by algae over the past two months, a problem that has affected the drinking water of millions of people. Beijing is very concern that it might trigger social unrest. Experts say measures are insufficient because the problem affects the whole region. Environment agency and National Bureau of Statistics disagree over how to calculate pollution’s economic cost.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China’s environment chief has spelled out measures for tackling the pollution of three major lakes caused by a series of algal blooms over the past two months. At a meeting yesterday in Hefei (Anhui), State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) Chief Zhou Shengxian said tough measures had to be introduced against industrial waste, especially by industrial plants near the lakes. Tougher penalties for environmental crimes had to be applied; fish farming had to be gradually phased out of by the end of 2008; and farming and animal husbandry must be banned within a kilometre of the lakes' waterlines.

The measures designed to protect the lakes also included stricter industrial emissions criteria, more stringent licence approval and renewal requirements for industries with factories near the lakes, harsher punishment for violations of environmental regulations, and demands for compensation in case of environmental damages.

Millions of Wuxi residents went without tap water for days in late May after a widespread algal bloom in Tai Lake, which is located between the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang.

Anhui's famous Chao Lake and picturesque Dian Lake, another scenic spot in Yunnan, were also hit by an algal bloom late last month, releasing waves of foul odours across Kunming.

Unchecked algal growth depends on high nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the water. For this reason, the authorities plan to drastically reduce emissions in both Chao and Dian Lakes. Enterprises that fail to meet their targets by June next year will be shut down.

In China this is not an isolated problem. Water quality in lakes and rivers has gone from bad to worse in the last few years. About 60 per cent of the country's water is close to being unfit for human consumption. According to state-owned Xinhua news agency, unfettered harvesting of the country's water resources has resulted in the disappearance of an average of 20 lakes each year, with a total of 1,000 lakes vanishing in the past 50 years. Similarly, 87 per cent of industrial areas near major rivers and lakes show signs of violations of environmental regulations.

Lack of drinking water has in turn led to mass protest by an exasperated population.

Jiang Wenlai, a water resources researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science, told the South China Morning Post that SEPA's proposed measures were necessary but would not solve all the problems. “Pollution of lakes is a regional problem. It is not sufficient just to treat problems at the lakes alone," he said.

For this reason, SEPA has been trying to factor in environmental costs to reach a ‘Green’ GDP. This could have deter local governments which for decades have favoured unbridled industrial development and owed their political careers to it.

By contrast, National Bureau of Statistics Chief Xie Fuzhan yesterday rejected the term “green GDP” because “there is no international standard for GDP calculations in this regard, and no country in the world has ever made such calculations.”

Although it might be possible to calculate the cost of pollution to the environment and resources, such as water, land and forests, “we cannot publish the figures,” Mr Xie said. Such calculations should instead be a reference only for policymakers, and not made public.

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