"Tackling water pollution is as serious and worthy a challenge for the authority as combating air pollution...water pollution poses a bigger health threat to about 300 million people living in rural areas, and many of them are vulnerable and disadvantaged," Ma Jun said.
In June 2013, China's national disease control authority confirmed that water pollution was responsible for the high cancer rates along the Huai River and its tributaries. Later in September, state news agency Xinhua reported that water pollution may be linked to the increase in cancer cases in more than 247 villages nationwide.
The worsening water pollution is fueling social discontent. On the same day that top environmental officials announced the action plan, the Associated Press reported that villagers in south-western Yunnan province had clashed with local police over a factory that was discharging waste water.
"China's water pollution is the byproduct of three decades' rapid economic development. There is no doubt that the action plan will speed up the improvement of water quality, but it will take a very long time before any fundamental improvement occurs," said Fu Tao, a water governance expert at Tsinghua University, in an interview with China Business Radio.
Ma Jun echoed Fu's opinion by saying that water is more difficult to clean up than air. "The cleaning process will take longer and cost more, especially when the polluted water has entered the underground water circle," he said.
"But we can borrow experience from the anti-air pollution campaign. Disclosing information, encouraging public participation, identifying pollution sources and reducing waste water discharges are all good places to start."
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