The year 2000 witnessed a significant improvement in water quality in the Huaihe River, in east China's Anhui Province. After years of effort to curb pollution, by the end of 2000, the water in the river was getting cleaner - the quality of its mainstream water reached Grade III, suitable for daily life, and tributary water reached Grade IV, suitable for industrial usage.
The water monitoring on the Huaihe River in April this year, however, presented disappointing results.
With pollution on the upswing, the water quality of only 4 of the 31 surveying sections was ranked Grade IV; that of one section was Grade V, suitable for agricultural use; while the water quality of the remaining sections was so seriously polluted that all failed to even reach Grade V.
According to a report by the Huaihe River Harnessing Committee, the pollution of the river is twice as serious as the 2000 target allows and the situation is getting worse.
Pollution in the Huaihe River, the major water supplier for the cities and towns bordering it, poses a great threat to people's health and life. This worrisome fact must urge us to check what has gone wrong.
Industrial pollution is the biggest culprit. Of the 506 factories monitored along the Huaihe River, the discharge water of only 242 of them reached State standards last year. Of the factories whose discharge water does not reach required standards, some are polluters who simply restarted operation after having been shut down prior to 2000. All of these factors have resulted in increased industrial pollution to the river.
In addition, the river is overloaded with sewage pollution, which accounts for about half of its total pollution.
This increase is precisely a result of the loosening of controls by the local authorities.
Take the industrial discharge, for example. The State Council issued an order stating that all discharge must reach required standards by 1997. The State ordered the closure of poorly equipped small factories causing serious pollution.
The fact is that many of those small factories are still in operation and pouring out pollutants. And some large enterprises try every means possible to discharge unprocessed sewage to earn maximum profit, at the expense of the environment. Local governments either did not bother to check or just winked at the violations of some major local tax-payers.
The construction of sewage treatment facilities has also slowed down.
According to previous planning, 52 sewage treatment plants should have been built during the Ninth Five-Year Plan period (1996-2000), treating 40 percent of the total sewage entering the river. But today there are only 31 treatment plants along the river.
The harnessing of the pollution on Huaihe River in the final years of last century was a major operation. But there was no follow-up program. Now the river is repolluted and the situation seems even worse than ever.
And the return of pollution on the Huaihe is surely not an isolated example.
The State Environment Protection Administration circulated a notice Wednesday about the top ten environmental cases investigated and prosecuted this year, mostly involving illegal discharge of pollutants or a return to old levels. It also announced that 6,143 enterprises had been ordered to shut down for violation of the country's environmental protection law.
Now the administration is sending inspection teams around the country to supervise the containment of illegal discharge of pollutants by local factories.
Protecting the environment is a demanding task requiring continuous joint efforts. The ultimate solution to illegal discharges lies in industrial restructuring and upgrading, and improvement in government functions and the legal system.
Local authorities should place environmental protection before economic development and abandon local protectionism.
Environment protection departments should strengthen enforcement of the law and punishment of violators. Only by doing these things can we expect to see the Huaihe River flow clean again.
(China Daily August 18, 2003)