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Thirsty Cities Pollute Waterways

China's rapidly growing cities are polluting their water supplies and costing the economy dearly, experts said yesterday.


"Water pollution is an unavoidable problem faced by almost all countries and cities and must be solved to achieve sustainable development," said Liu Hangui, director of the Urban Committee of China Hydraulic Engineering Society.


Liu made the remarks at the committee's ongoing annual meeting which this year focuses on city water supplies.


More than 50 experts and officials from across the country attended the meeting.


"Due to underdeveloped industries and ignorance of environmental protection, Beijing has been confronted with the problem of water pollution," Liu said.


"However, with improvements in standards of living, people are increasingly demanding a more pleasant environment," he added.


Beijing discharges 1.2 billion tons of sewage, almost half of which are untreated, into city waterways annually.


In recent years, the Beijing government has massively invested in waste-water treatment and improved water quality in the Liangshui River, Xiaoyue River and Guanting Reservoir.


By 2008, the city will have built 30 sewage treatment plants to process over 90 percent of sewage before discharge, Liu said.


Elsewhere, in Shanghai, over 7 billion yuan (US$846 million) has been spent cleaning up Suzhou Creek and other city waterways.


"The city still faces a great challenge in improving its water quality and we hope to treat 80 percent of sewage by 2010," said Wang Songnian, deputy director of Shanghai Water Authority.


Drought and water pollution are the two major problems in urban water supply, according to Zhang Jusheng and Wan Yi of the Huaihe River Committee of the Ministry of Water Resources.


Statistics provided show that more than 400 of China's 672 cities are short of water and 160 cities are forced to impose water restrictions, affecting the lives of local residents. The water shortages cost 200 billion yuan (US$24.2 billion) in industrial output every year in the country.


Over 90 percent of surface water and 50 percent of underground water in cities nationwide have deteriorated.


Due to excessive consumption, underground water levels in coastal cities such as Dalian, Qingdao, Ningbo and Haikou are dropping.


Encroaching sea water is contaminating underground water supplies in these cities.


Efficient waste-water treatment needs more investment and unified administration, experts agreed.


(China Daily September 17, 2003)

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