A State Council conference on pollution control, attended by Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan, was held over the weekend in Bengbu, Anhui Province. Four provinces -- Jiangsu, Anhui, Shandong and Henan -- signed a pledge to the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) to cut pollution along the Huaihe River, according to the People's Daily.
The provinces pledged to regulate the discharge of pollutants from next year; build more sewage treatment, collection and distribution facilities; and curb agricultural pollution.
Also beginning next year, the four provincial governments will be required to submit reports on their pollution control activities to SEPA. The administration will determine whether the provinces are fulfilling their anti-pollution pledges and report to the State Council.
Zeng told the conference that controls of heavily polluting industries and enterprises in regions along the river should be strengthened, according to the People's Daily. Both central and local governments should increase investment in the construction of sewage treatment facilities and sewage collection and distribution systems, and more investment should be sought from the private sector.
The Huaihe river, the country's third longest, supplies water for around 165 million people in Henan, Hubei, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces in central and eastern China.
The central government launched a 60 billion yuan (US$7.2 billion) campaign 10 years ago to clean up the river, but the Huaihe Water, Environment and Resources Protection Administration reports that it remains a toxic wasteland. The situation has actually grown worse this year, according to local water quality monitoring departments.
An administration investigation revealed that 31.5 percent of industrial operations along the river -- which include paper mills, chemical plants, food and beverage companies and textile producers -- discharge pollutants far exceeding legal limits.
"The water is so polluted that it's not even suitable for industrial or agricultural use, let alone supporting fish populations," said Wang Hui, a researcher of the Water Environmental Protection Center in Fuyang, Anhui Province. Fuyang is located on the Shaying River, a tributary of the Huaihe.
An investigation by the Ecological Science Research Center on the Huaihe River Valley found nearly 50,000 people have cancer in at least 20 villages along the Shaying. At Huangmengying Village alone, 114 people have died of cancer in the past 14 years.
In late July, unexpectedly heavy rainstorms hit the upper reaches of the Huaihe and swelled a number of reservoirs, forcing them to discharge water simultaneously. The accumulated polluted water created a "dirty zone" that further contaminated the river and rapidly moved downstream.
In Xuyi County, Jiangsu Province -- one of the worst affected regions -- the incident killed 90 percent of the aquatic products, causing losses of 310 million yuan (US$37 million), according to the local aquatic products bureau.
China rates water quality from grade one to five, with five considered too toxic even to touch. Tests conducted in July and August this year rated the water in the lower reaches of the Huaihe five, making it unfit even for irrigation.
Qu Geping, chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) Environmental and Resources Conservation Committee, said last month that pollution control along the Huaihe is poor because four separate provinces manage the area. He suggested that the State Council take over management of the entire river region.
(China Daily October 26, 2004)