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'Mass Incidents' on Rise as Environment Deteriorates
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Chinese people's refusal to accept an ever deteriorating environmental situation has resulted in a rising number of "mass incidents", the country's chief environment official said on Wednesday.


Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), did not give detailed figures or examples when addressing a national environment meeting on Wednesday.


But Zhou did reveal that his agency received 1,814 petitions in the first five months of the year appealing for a better environment, an 8 percent increase over the same period of last year.


"As people's living standards rise, they are focusing more on the environment and on quality of life," said Zhou, acknowledging that repeated environmental incidents have undermined public confidence.


Since May, blue-green algae outbreaks have been reported in eastern Taihu Lake, Chaohu Lake and southwestern Dianchi Lake, endangering local tap water supply.


The local government said on Wednesday water supplies to 200,000 people in Shuyang county in east China's Jiangsu Province had been halted for more than 40 hours after ammonia and azote polluted a local river.


An unending series of water pollution incidents has prompted environmental officials to suddenly become very outspoken.


"In China the environment is facing extremely difficult conditions," Zhou said.


Zhou also revealed that the administration would treat the prevention of pollution in the main rivers and lakes as the priority task in the last six months of the year.


"We will give all the polluted rivers and lakes a rest," he said, admitting that northern China's Liaohe River and Haihe River had been seriously contaminated.


There is still a possibility of a pollution outbreak in Chaohu Lake, Dianchi Lake and drainage area of the Three Gorges offshoot, he added.


Frequent water pollution incidents also increased the Cabinet's concern, as a State Council executive meeting presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday stressed the need to amend the existing law on handling of water pollution, allowing for harsher punishment for illegal practices.


The growth of China's high energy-consuming and polluting industries in the first five months of 2007 far exceeded that of the national economy, "posing great difficulties for environmental protection," said Zhou.


SEPA vice-director Pan Yue said on Tuesday that "traditional ways of development have caused the near breakdown of China's resources and environment and people's lives are in great danger."


Local authorities in six cities, two counties and five industrial zones - all in the vicinity of the Yellow River, the Yangtze River, the Huaihe River and the Haihe River - only have three months to fix their "environmental problems", according to Pan.


He set in motion a plan to tackle water pollution in China's four major rivers, mainly targeting illegal pollution discharge.


(China Daily July 5, 2007)

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