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Experts Disappointed in Taihu Lake Improvements
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On March 22, World Water Day, the government of Wuxi announced that the Yangtze River diversion project had been fully launched. The project was initially planned to be completed at the end of 2009, but with accelerated construction it is now expected to be finished in 2008. When it is complete, residents of Wuxi in southeast China's Jiangsu Province will have a new drinking water source. It will not be necessary for them to solely rely on Taihu Lake.

"In recent years, the government has spent so much money in improving the water quality of Taihu Lake, but the outcome was disappointing. We should take the phenomenon into serious consideration," commented Professor Wang Guoxiang, director of the Research Center for Eco-environmental Sciences of Nanjing Normal University, when interviewed by the China Business Daily on June 5.

In August 2002, Wuxi officially launched a water treatment project that is a part of China's national high technology research and development program. This project aims to research polluted water treatment and water quality improvement for Taihu Lake. It also includes bettering the water quality of the lake sections where people draw their drinking water. In the next three years, researchers obtained 134 patents, issued 434 essays and got 2 authorities-approved technological achievements. Unfortunately, none of these accomplishments has helped raise drinking water quality.

Taihu Lake is the drinking water sources of many areas around it so it is a key task to make sure that its water can meet quality standards, Professor Wang said. No matter what technological achievements are achieved, what measures are taken, they do not count at all if the safety of drinking water cannot be assured, he added.

"Under current unfavorable circumstances, we should not spend our energy doing research on those basic theories," he said. "I hope that researchers should take the best interests of the general public into consideration and focus on solving the problems of the quality of drinking water sources to keep people from harms caused by environmental pollution."

In Professor Wang's opinion, the Taihu Lake areas have serious problems with pollution source control. They are sensitive areas because of their dense population and strong economy. Therefore, he thinks that special standards instead of regular ones should be set in these areas.

As early as 1998, a government campaign managed to improve the water quality of Taihu Lake by adopting two measures – strictly controlling the amount of industrial waste water and treating sewage from households before discharging it. But now with population increasing and economy growing in the Taihu Lake areas, these measures are not enough.

Qu Geping, a then central government official in charge of environmental protection, pointed out that some other measures should be taken in order to clean up Taihu Lake. Firstly, the authorities in the areas should adjust the industrial and product structures by getting rid of heavy pollution-causing enterprises and developing non- or low-pollution industrial products. Secondly, they should improve the industrial layout by strategically locating industrial plants to control the amount of pollution discharges and cut costs.

China does not have a scientific development system, explained Zhang Jinghan, vice president of Jiangsu Academy of Social Sciences. Although the central government is promoting a scientific development view, it has not drawn up any detailed incentive and punishment regulations. In addition, environmental protection authorities have too much flexibility and China's administrative system still needs improvement.

Absence of non-governmental groups' participation is considered to be one of the main reasons for failure in Taihu Lake pollution control.

Reportedly, during the past several years, at least two people in Wuxi applied to the local government several times for establishing an environmental protection non-governmental organization. But their application was turned down because there is already such an organization in Wuxi and only one NGO of the same kind is allowed to exit in an administrative region, according to the relevant law.

Fortunately, the government of Wuxi has now realized the importance of non-governmental groups. Early this year, it worked out an action plan for environmental protection to encourage people from every field and sector of society to take part in environmental protection.

The government also intends to remove the restrictions on establishing NGOs and will encourage interested groups or individuals to set up NGOs to help with environmental management and protection, participate in policies making, and to enhance people's awareness of environmental protection.

Recently, Wuxi claimed that it would improve relevant local laws and regulations on citizens' environmental rights and work harder in educating citizens on the importance of environmental protection. It will also make appropriate policies for disclosing information on environmental safety, and guide all the citizens in their participation in in environmental protection and management.

(China.org.cn by Pang Li, June 11, 2007)

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