China's ten-year-long efforts seemingly have failed to clean the Huaihe River, China's third largest river which supplies water for one-sixth of the country's 1.3 billion population.
According to an investigation report released by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) in Beijing Monday, water from the Huaihe's tributaries, which carry 60 percent of total water resources of the river, are too polluted to supply even industrial production and irrigation, let along drinking.
Covering Henan, Shandong, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces, the Huaihe River Valley is one of the most densely populated areas of China, an old agriculture base and an emerging industrial belt. Millions of tons of waste and urban sewage have poured into the river for years.
China started its cleaning action for the Huaihe in 1994 and invested almost 20 billion yuan (US$2.41 billion in it so far.
"It's unfair to say the action is a failure, but it achieved less than we expected. Pollution in the tributaries is still severe, if not worse," said Pan Yue, SEPA's vice-director.
Pan led a 15-day inspection tour, covering 165 chemical, brewery, pharmaceutical and paper-making plants, 30 urban water treatment plants, 155 longitudinal sections of 65 branch rivers in the four provinces along the river.
He was disappointed to see that 31.5 percent of industrial polluters discharge more than the maximum permitted, 56.7 percent of water treatment plants are out of service, and the water quality of half the branch rivers falls short of target standards set in 2001.
Pan said four things led to this situation.
He first blamed local officials who ignore environmental capacity to accommodate pollution when making economic development plans. "They approved heavy-polluting projects only to raise the GDP figure."
The failure was also attributed to fund shortage. A five-year cleaning plan launched in 2001 intended to invest 60 billion (US$7.25 billion), but only 33 percent had been realized by mid-2004. Some 85 water treatment plants, which were supposed to operate by the end of 2005 haven't been built yet for lack of money.
Thirdly, heavy polluting industries are still the industrial pillars of the river valley. The paper-making industry, chemical industry, beverage industry, textile industry and food industry have discharged 78.4 percent and 94.2 percent of the river's total COD and ammonia nitrogen.
In addition to industrial pollution, agricultural pollution is soaring. Seventy percent of fertilizers and pesticides used by farmers in the river valley are washed into the river.
Pan demanded local governments to adjust the industrial structure, arrange agricultural and industrial production based on the river's capacity, and push forward the emission licensing system. He also urged laws and regulations to give SEPA more power than small fines to punish polluters.
(Xinhua News Agency June 22, 2004)