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Pollution Control Top Priority
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The Chinese government has unveiled a plan to combat environmental degradation in the country over the next 15 years, with pollution control high on the agenda.

"The move is aimed at protecting the long-term interests of China and its people, and leaving a good living and development space for future generations," the State Council said.

The plan stipulates that by 2010, the environmental quality of heavily polluted regions and cities should be improved and the trend of environmental degradation checked.

And up to 2020, significant improvements to the country's general environmental quality and ecological status should have been made.

To realize the goal, the Chinese government has outlined seven major tasks, with five focused on air, water and soil pollution control.

The plan comes in the wake of the Songhua River pollution incident in November last year, an event that stunned the nation and sounded alarm bells about the country's worsening environment.

Official statistics indicate that most of the major rivers in the country are polluted and over one-third of China's land mass has been ravaged by acid rain. Most city residents breathe dirty air, and more than 300 million rural residents do not have access to clean water.

The government acknowledged that despite its efforts to keep a check on pollution over the years, the situation is "still very severe".

Major problems cited include acid rain, polluted soil, organic pollutants, the potential risks posed by nuclear facilities, and a decline of biodiversity.

In the next 15 years, the fight against pollution will become even more arduous, as the nation's economy is expected to quadruple during this time.

"The worst is yet to come, judging by the increased frequency of serious pollution incidents," according to Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).

"The issue of pollution has become a 'blasting fuse' of social instability," he told Xinhua, citing the many cases of mass unrest because of pollution.

But this is also China's golden opportunity to tackle its environmental issues, he said.

"The central government has paid an unprecedented amount of attention to the issue, which is important political support for pollution control efforts," he said.

Meanwhile, the plan also suggests the establishment of a long-term mechanism for environmental protection, including drafting laws on soil and chemical pollution as well as compensation for environmental damage.

It also demands the strict enforcement of environment laws and severe punishment for those responsible for pollution, including governmental officials.

The plan also requires governmental departments and localities to formulate preferential economic policies in relation to environmental protection, particularly in the areas of tax collection, credit, trade, land use and government purchases.

"The most urgent task for us is to check water pollution to ensure the safety of drinking water, and we must win the battle," Zhou said.

(Xinhua News Agency February 15, 2006)

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