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Pollution Threatens the Yangtze

The Yangtze River, the longest in Asia and the third longest in the world, is expected to benefit 800 million people after the South-to-North Water Diversion Project is realized. However, the river on which so many already rely has suffered severe pollution far beyond many people's imagination.

By 2003, industrial and urban daily wastewater exceeded 25 billion tons along the Yangtze, 90 percent of which was untreated, and the drinking water of more than 500 cities threatened.

During a meeting on October 9, Wang Jirong, vice director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, pointed out that the Yangtze accounts for one third of China's water resources, one third of its cities and one third of its discharged wastewater. Yet its wastewater processing rate is lower than the national average, at only 10 percent.

Ai Feng, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and president of the Chinese Academy of Development and Research, conducted an in-depth inspection in 2003.

According to Ai, the river is facing six big crises: deforestation, silting, earlier dry seasons, degraded drinking water, threatened wildlife, damage to sluices and power stations, and damage to the river's natural self-cleaning processes.

"The Yangtze River will become the second Yellow River in 10 years if it isn't protected in a timely way," Ai warned.

Sichuan's provincial Population, Resources and Environmental Committee (PREC) commissioned researchers who discovered that many industrial enterprises established in 1960s-1970s have become the main sources of river pollution.

But there is insufficient planning and not enough motivation to clean up their act, whilst the law provides no consistent redress and offers too many loopholes.

Currently, 62 counties in Sichuan have no independent environmental supervision mechanisms, and the existing 36 county-level mechanisms are unable to enforce environmental law, experts said.

Yang Zichun, deputy director of the PREC, said that there should be greater environmental awareness and adherence to decisions to protect river ecology, as well as better legal and political mechanisms to encourage good practice and punish bad.

Sichuan's water resources account for one third of the Yangtze's total, said Yang, and water quality in the Three Gorges Reservoir and the river's lower reaches is directly determined by that in Sichuan.

(Sichuan Daily, translated by Li Jingrong for China.org.cn November 27, 2004)

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