China will continue to combat the illegal dredging of the Yangtze River to protect the fragile banks of the world's third longest river, a senior official has said.
Vice Minister of Water Resources Jiao Yongzhou told a work conference in Beijing on Tuesday that illicit sand extraction, driven by huge profits, was rampant in the middle and lower reaches of the river. This posed a major threat to flood prevention and shipping security.
Thirteen illegal dredging vessels blocking waterways were seized by the authorities during a crackdown this month.
Jiao said local authorities had missed opportunities to act, which had undermined overall efforts to stop the practice, and low levels of accountability had worsened the situation. He urged local departments to accept their responsibilities and step up preventive efforts.
The Yangtze River, the longest in China, has been a prime source of sand for the construction industry and a source of vast hydropower reserves. The country has set aside a huge amount of money to harness the Yangtze River each year, including building embankments and constructing flood control facilities.
China lifted a ban on sand extraction from the river in 2004 due to a rising demand for sand in construction, as well as the need to dredge the watercourse of the Yangtze.
Before the ban, sand extraction on the middle and lower reaches of the river was virtually uncontrolled, and this led to embankment collapses and a shift in the river's navigable channels, producing losses to the state.
(Xinhua News Agency March 27, 2008)