Economic development and the pollution of water resources

Shanghai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China's water is dirty and the situation is so serious that state-owned news agency Xinhua has sounded the alarm bell.

Rapid economic development and the lack of environmental legislation have turned China's rivers, streams and lakes into open sewers.

A case in point is the Yangtze River where an estimated 25.6 billion tonnes of waste is dumped every year along its 2,163 kilometres. Only 10 per cent of its polluted water is treated—the rest is used especially by rural residents who have no alternative but to rely on the river for their own water needs.

According to official sources, a third of China's rural population—an estimated 360m people—lack access to safe drinking water and more than 70 per cent of China's rivers and lakes are heavily polluted.

A survey in January found that only 47 per cent of water in major rivers is drinkable resulting in more than 100 cities having inadequate water supplies.

The Ministry of Waters Resources reports that drinking water contains highly toxic substances such as fluorine, arsenic, sodium sulphate or bitter salt.

With studies indicating that arsenic-laced drinking water cause cancer, 35 per cent of ground water has become undrinkable and would be deadly if consumed.

Wang Shucheng, the Minister of Waters Resources, said that "hundress of thousands Chinese are afflicted with various diseases from drinking water that contains" such substances.

China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) examined the state of the country's water treatment facilities and found that a third of the planned facilities on the eastern line of the mainland's massive South-North Water Diversion Project have not yet been built.

The Project is expected to bring 8.9 billion cubic metres of water from the Yangtze River to the drought-stricken city of Tianjin and to the northern province of Shandong every year.

Although the first phase of the project is scheduled to be completed by 2007, many of the planned treatment facilities are not likely to be ready in time. The whole line could thus become a huge open sewer.

In addition to the South-North Water Diversion Project, SEPA said planned cleanup along the Huai, Liao and Hai Rivers has not been completed.

To avoid an ecological disaster, SEPA urged all relevant government bureaus to step up their efforts and complete the construction of the water treatment facilities. The agency warned that should they fail to do so it would expose them to the media.

Yesterday, a plan to provide safe drinking water to rural areas in 2005-2006 was approved in principle by the State Council's executive meeting, which Premier Wen Jiabao presided.