The central government is urging provincial and regional governments to act now to launch pollution-disposal projects after finding a national environment plan could be delayed due to shortage of funds and inaction by local governments and enterprises.
The State Council recently called a meeting of provincial officials in charge of environmental protection to address the urgency to fulfill the 10th Five-year Plan on Pollution Control and Treatment in Key River Basins and Areas, which is due by the year 2005.
"All projects that have not been started in line with the plan must be launched next year," Xie Zhenhua, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), told the meeting in Beijing last week.
At least 67 percent of 2,418 projects for water-pollution treatment, involving a total investment of 192.6 billion yuan (US$23.2 billion), were still just plans on paper so far, Xie said.
Meanwhile, 57 percent of 279 projects nationwide to reduce sulfur dioxide in the air from coal burning and responsible for serious acid rains and respiratory problems among local residents, have not been kicked off.
The SEPA official attributed the stagnancy mainly to the reluctance of local governments and enterprises to give financial support and take pollution control measures.
"Local governments should bear the major responsibility in financing pollution-treatment projects and adopting environment-friendly policies, such as fee-collection systems for sewage and garbage disposal," Xie said.
Enterprises have also been required to keep the total amount of pollutant discharge under the government-set limits.
But shortsightedness and eagerness to develop local economy or to seek profits have driven some local officials and entrepreneurs to ignore the central government's calls, he said.
By April, the State Council had endorsed 10 five-year programs to tackle severe pollution.
In spite of environmental protection measures taken in past years, "pollution remains a key factor hindering economic development, endangering people's health, and even causing social instability in some regions," Xie said.
He said that the challenge facing China was particularly enormous in comparison with developed countries, which had similar environmental problems but have dealt with them gradually in the past century.
"In China, the problems emerged just in the last 20 years as a result of rapid economic growth, which make them more difficult to resolve," he said.
Monitoring water quality at 741 checkpoints on the seven largest rivers showed that less than 30 percent reached the medium level in the nation's five-grade index for water quality monitoring.
(Eastday.com July 7, 2003)