03/14/2007, 00.00
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In Yixing 80,000 people are without water for a month

Locals complain that water stinks, fish are dead and “the water makes us itch.” Water dealers are making a fortune. Authorities claim everything is back to normal, but residents say it is all a “lie.” Some 1,685 chemical plants operate in the area.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 80,000 villagers in Yixing (Jiangsu) have been without safe drinking water for about a month because of chemically contaminated water supplies. The crisis came as Premier Wen Jiabao spoke to the National People’s Congress about the need to curb environmental pollution.

Water began to stink and fish die on February 15. Drinking, cooking and washing became impossible “because the water makes us itch,” Weng Yufu, a resident of Xinjian, told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. Since then residents in the villages of Xinjian, Yangxiang, Jintan and Shiru have had to buy water at one yuan a bucket.

What is more “our township Party secretary only told us to stop drinking it after the media exposed the contamination,” Mr Weng said.

Tap water in Xinjian and its neighbouring towns comes from the Beigan, Zhonggan and Xinfeng canals—three tributaries of the ancient Grand Canal built 14 centuries ago.

The quality of the water has been under threat since the late 1990s, when hundreds of chemical factories mushroomed along its banks.

Jiangsu environmental protection department supervisor Ling Jing said the quality of tap water in Xinjian and the other towns returned to normal days ago.

“Ling Jing is telling a lie. Villagers are still buying clean water from a factory at the Hengshan reservoir,” said Tai Lake environmental activist Wu Lihong. “The factory is pumping a record 80 tonnes of clean water from the reservoir each day for water dealers.”

Officially 90 per cent of China’s rivers and lakes are polluted. More than 320 million farmers lack access to clean water and 190 million drink contaminated water which they also use to irrigate their fields. Cancer rates are very high.

There were 1,685 chemical factories in Yixing at the end of last year, generating about 75 per cent of the city's income, according to the municipal environmental protection office.

However, government experts calculate that environmental problems cost China between 8 and 13 of its GDP. (PB)

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