06/06/2007, 00.00
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Beijing pledges pollution reduction in 2007

An official with China’s Environmental Protection Administration claims that steps taken in the past few years are now bearing fruit. However, official figures show that the situation is getting worse, not better. Water sources are contaminated, lakes are dying, droughts and sandstorms are getting worse.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Pollution will decrease in China by the end of 2007, pledged Zhang Lijun, deputy director of China’s State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA). He made the statement on the eve of the G8 summit in Germany where Chinese President Hu Jintao will take part in discussions on global climate change; however, his own agency’s data contradict his claims.

“It is true that the total discharge of pollutants was still on the rise last year, but at a much slower pace compared with the previous year,” Nr Zhang said. “I'm confident the total discharge of main pollutants will reach a turning point later this year and definitely fall.” This will be possible because of anti-pollution measures adopted in the last few years. But SEPA’s own figures seem to contradict the assertions.

The mainland promised to cut sulphur dioxide emissions by 10 per cent between 2006 and 2010 but in a report released yesterday the total output of sulphur dioxide, an industrial pollutant causing acid rain, reached 25.89 million tonnes last year, up 1.5 per cent on the previous year. Chemical oxygen demand or COD, a measure of water pollution, rose year-on-year by 4.6 per cent in 2005. Last year was also a record year for accidents, 161 compared to 85 in 2005.

In places like Wuxi (Jiangsu) industrial waste have sharply increased the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in lakes and rivers, contributing to algal blooms that poison the water. Recently, more than 2 million people in Wuxi were left without clean tap water for days after an algal bloom in Tai Lake, China’s third largest lake, contaminated the city's sole source of fresh water.

Mr Zhang said that the situation in Tai lake has not changed much and the authorities “are studying the feasibility of buying boats to remove algae from the lake.”

Discrepancies also appear in other government data on the environment. For example, whilst the agency said in its latest report that the Bohai Sea suffered only slight pollution, the State Oceanic Administration and many environmental experts have warned the sea could be dead in 10 years from industrial discharges and untreated sewage.

Zhang’s rosy assessment also flies in the face of another report, this one unveiled last month by Pan Yue, another SEPA deputy director, which said environmental degradation had worsened in many parts of the country in the first quarter of the year.

In Germany for the G8 summit, President Hu will discuss climate change and global warming.

On Monday his government stated that China would reduce green house gases over the next few years but it also acknowledged that it has so far failed to uphold its previous pledges to reduce pollution.

Climate change is having devastating effect on China. River damming and lower amounts of rainfall are causing worsening droughts in Gansu, Qinghai and Ningxia.

In Sichuan province nearly 4 million people and 4.46 heads of cattle are facing drinking water shortages. For 116,000 residents the situation is even worse since they have to rely on water supplies delivered by trucks. Elsewhere drought has affected the growth of rice and corn.

Because of indiscriminate logging the Gobi desert is inching its way towards Beijing at a rate of three kilometres a year and sandstorms are getting worse in the capital and north-eastern Asia.

In Inner Mongolia, Hebei and Shanxi the authorities have planted millions of trees and seeded grass areas to create a ‘green wall’ to stop the sand, but experts note that it does not cover more than a tenth of the affected area.

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