Lawmaker Jiang Deming wants to make sure that rural areas are not left behind when the country takes action to ensure people have clean water, fresh air and a better environment in which to live.
Jiang, a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC) from east China's Jiangsu Province, submitted a proposal at the ongoing session calling for an agricultural environmental protection law.
While Premier Wen Jiabao undoubtedly had the whole country in mind when he proclaimed environmental protection as a key national objective in his work report to the NPC on Saturday, Jiang believes that ad hoc legislation will help to protect the countryside from the downside of development.
"Unlike cities, most rural areas do not have special funds put aside for building sewage treatment systems. As a result, waste collects here and there and pollution is rampant in many regions," he said.
China's rural ecological system is extremely fragile. Jiang cited a survey that indicates one-third of the country's total area is already blighted by erosion, a figure double the forecast made in studies conducted less than 20 years ago.
Erosion causes sedimentation levels to rise, ultimately with adverse effects on hydroelectric output, availability of irrigation water, flood control potential and the availability of navigable waterways.
Added to this, at least 133,300 hectares of farmland have been either tainted or ruined by solid waste, and polluted air is fouling growing conditions for more than 5.3 million hectares of arable fields, Jiang said.
Many farmers have applied excessive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides to their crops, leaving harmful residue in the soil and ultimately in agricultural products.
Gao Wangsheng, a professor at Beijing's China Agricultural University, noted that conserving the environment is important to safeguarding the security of the food supply in China.
The threats to the rural environment call for prompt and effective action in the form of a statute specifically addressing the issue, Jiang said. The law he proposes would oblige rural authorities to include environmental protection in their annual economic and social development plans, while allocating special funds for cleaning up polluted areas.
It would also help to end the flight of polluting industries to the countryside, a trend that has grown owing to more stringent urban environmental regulations.
However, opponents of Jiang's proposal argue that implementation of existing statutes is more important than drafting new ones.
Zhang Jianyu, a visiting scholar at Tsinghua University, told China Daily that since the late 1970s China has been formulating and revising environmental protection laws and regulations. Although many of these statutes were prompted by urban industrial pollution, they apply to rural areas as well.
Zhang advocates increasing fund allocations for existing environmental cleanup and protection projects and doing more to curb pollution in the countryside.
(China Daily, China.org.cn March 9, 2005)