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Disaster in Taihu Lake

Ma Jun

Readinch

A fetid bloom of blue-green algae recently threatened the water supply for city residents near China's third-largest lake. But this was not a natural disaster, says Ma Jun, and local polluters must be held to account.
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The city of Wuxi, in east China’s Jiangsu province, was hit by a serious ecological disaster this week. A large bloom of blue-green algae in Taihu Lake caused water quality to deteriorate severely. Despite the local water department’s attempts at mitigating the crisis, the water supply to a great number of households was contaminated, the water becoming putrid and very unpleasant to drink. In response, the Wuxi city government used their website to tell residents to come together and surmount the crisis, which they described as a “natural disaster.”

While it is crucial to help others in the face of a crisis, labelling the algae bloom a natural disaster was completely inaccurate. Taihu Lake has suffered from low water levels this year, and the weather has been hot – with little rain -- all of which will have contributed to the algae bloom. However, the local government announced that, “the water quality problem is in no way caused by manufacturing or any other human activity,” when in fact there were local factors causing the algae bloom. In particular: the serious eutrophication of Taihu Lake, caused by the great volume of pollutants discharged into the water.

The water in Taihu Lake has not always had this problem. The 1980s song “Beauty of Taihu Lake” shows how at that time the lake was rich in fish, and the area produced a lot of rice. “Green reeds at the water’s edge; rich in fish and shellfish at low tide; the lake water weaves through irrigation nets; the fragrance of fruit and rice floats around the lake.”

But after industry set up around the lake, large amounts of industrial waste and urban sewage were pumped into the water, and chemical fertilisers from agriculture ran into the lake, all contributing to the pollution, which has made the water only suitable for rinsing rice and vegetables. It has affected fish and shellfish stocks on an unprecedented scale, and damaged the bodies and minds of local residents.


 


Environmental pollution is not a natural disaster; it is created by humans’ unsustainable production processes and lifestyles. Cleaning up Wuxi’s drinking water will mean controlling eutrophication, which means reducing sewagedischarges into the lake. City officials in Wuxi need to recognise that water pollution is the source of the problem. Simply labelling it an “act of God” means the issue will not be resolved, and the situation may repeat itself.

We need to clean up Taihu Lake’s water pollution right now, but we should also reflect on the management of the lake. The end of 1998 marked a cut-off, when polluters were forced to meet a new set of standards. At midnight on January 1 1999, the Taihu Lake authorities made a big show of launching the “Midnight Action” campaign, announcing that more than a thousand highly polluting workplaces around the lake had reached the new standards on pollution. This announcement was supposed to herald a revival in the lake’s fortunes and set an example for others. 

But there has been little in the way of good news about Taihu Lake’s water quality, despite over a billion yuan invested in managing the lake. In fact, a large amount of Yangtze River water was channelled into the lake to dilute the pollution, but the overall water pollution indicators remained high. Studies reveal that pollution from homes and lakeside industries continue on a large scale. Black, putrid river water still flows into the lake, and several years after the successes of ‘Midnight Action’ were announced, there are still a number of major polluting projects in the area, in places like Suzhou, Wuxi and Changzhou. Only now are we confronted with nature’s merciless revenge.

As the fetid bloom of blue-green algae continues, creating putrid drinking water and affecting people’s livelihoods, we should question our collective conscience. The regional environmental protection department recently announced that there were over 300 polluting businesses in the region, and many of them high-risk industries such as chemical engineering, printing and dyeing plants and pharmaceutical manufacturers (for more information see www.ipe.org.cn). Government departments need to decide whether they are only going to impose a fine on these polluting businesses, or genuinely supervise their behaviour and urge improvements.



Some of the businesses violating environmental laws in the region are quite small, but others are household names. These include Jun Yao Dairy Company, Chang Chai Company Ltd. and Zhengdan Company. There are also transnational companies polluting the lake, such as Xiapu Electron Components Company Ltd. in Wuxi or Samsung Electronics Company and City Elevator Company in Suzhou. These industries must now tell us if they have truly reformed, and if they can really guarantee the safety of the local environment.

It is not the first time that drinking water in the region took on a strange odour; and similar incidents have happened all over China. But the Wuxi incident clearly demonstrates a conflict between China’s development and environmental protection. 

The Taihu Lake basin is right to want to catch up with the Pearl River Delta and become the world’s factory. But development should be established on the basis of ecological protection and environmental standards should be put into place. Otherwise the world’s factory will also end up creating the world’s rubbish tip and the world’s sewer.

We appeal to the environment protection department to strengthen monitoring and call on industry to bear responsibility for the environment. We also urge both government and industry to publicise information about water pollution, and allow residents who need clean water to take action and help monitor polluters in their own communities. Only when all parts of society take action can we stop pollution flowing into Taihu Lake and see the clear waters returned to their former splendour.


Ma Jun is director of the Institute of Public and Environment Affairs

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完全同意!

那个最早揭发太湖污染的环保英雄呢?地方政府是不是应该把他从监狱中放出来了?

Totally agree!

Where is the hero in environmental protection who firstly exposed the pollution in Taihu Lake? Should the government release him from the prison?


我相信

尽快逮捕那些制造污染的人。

i can believe that.

arrest the people who made the pollution ASAP.


我的观点

同意论文的观点,我们国家水污染太严重了,政府和以及相关部门以及民众一定要携手治理好太湖的污染。

My opinion

I agree with the views of this article.Water pollution in China is very serious.Our government,some departments and us should try together for pollution control in Taihu Lake.


大自然成了替罪羊

气候变化成了很多地方官员的借口。每当有事态发生,就说这是全球变暖导致的,与政府和企业的行为无关,把责任推得一干二净,在重庆的大旱中也是这样。这完全是本末倒置了。

Nature as scapegoat

Climate change has become an excuse for many local officials. Every time something happens, they blame it squarely on global warming, absolved of all responsibility, as if it has nothing to do with the actions of governments and corporations. This is what's happened with the drought in Chongqing. It's putting the cart before the horse.


12

随着人类社会的不断发展,环境问题越来越突出地摆在世人面前,环境保护与可持续发展已成为当今各国发展的重要战略。作为环境法理论基石的公民环境权是公民的一项应有的基本人权。为保障公民的环境利益,顺应世界人权发展的潮流,有些国家已在宪法或专门的环境法中确立了公民环境权并进行较好的保护,顺利地实现了公民环境权从应有权利向实有权利的过渡。我国虽然也有了环境立法和环境保护的实践,但并未以立法的形式明确承认公民环境权,它还仅仅停留在应有权利的阶段。而在现行的法律体制下,公民环境权得不到有效的救济,即使有限的救济和补偿,不仅难以弥补公民环境权益所遭受的侵害,也由于缺乏法律依据和司法解决程序,任意性、行政化处理痕迹浓厚。本文就从公民环境权概念和属性出发,对侵害公民环境权的侵权行为的类型、法律构成及其特征进行了系统分析和总结,并结合实际案例,具体探讨了公民环境权益侵害救济的主要方式及其完善途径,以期对建立和完善我国公民环境权法律救济制度有所借鉴和帮助。

12

Man's social development has led to a prominent problem -- the environment. Protecting the environment and sustainable development are now part of national strategy. It should be a basic human right and serve as a foundation to environmental legislation. Some nations have already enacted the right of residents to public environment into law and are protecting that right. Although China has environmental laws and protective measures, there is no legislation to recognize residents' rights to the environment. Under the current legal framework, residents are not accorded proper compensation, even in cases where compensation is given, it is far from enough to make up for the losses incurred, it is also ad hoc and hobbled by "rule by man" realities. This article is a systematic analysis of the concept of "right to environment", explores the acts that infringe on such rights and methods of redress, it is likely to aid China's residents in seeking legal redress from breaches of their environmental rights.


减少污染,治理污染

保护太湖水,保护太湖美!!!!!

Cut pollution, treat pollution

Protect Taihu lake's waters, preserve the lake's beauty!


需要行动!

健康的湖泊生态系统湖水清澈,水草丰富,这就是所谓的清态;一旦发生灾变,则藻类泛滥,湖水浑浊,即所谓的浊态。这两种状态都是稳定的状态,想由浊态转变成清态,即便营养盐的浓度降到很低的水平,重建水生植被,这个过程也需要一个漫长的时间,何况在太湖泊己经浑浊的情况下,并没有有效的使湖水中的营养盐浓度降到足够低的水平。
以美国Apopka湖为例,从1947年爆发水华开始,到政府涉足其中参与研究,总共花了40年的时间,而实际的工程治理也是最近20年的事情。在这60年间,虽然政府投入了巨额资金,最后使得Apopka湖水质得到了不少好转,但其中的沉水植物只在沿岸带得以重建,要想使Apopka湖恢复到原来的状态,还有很长一段路要走。由此可见,一旦环境发生灾变,人类就要为此付出沉重的代价。
如今,太湖已然走上了Apopka湖的道路。亡羊补牢,为时未晚。希望当地政府不要在逃避问题和责任,能切实采取有效的行动进行补救,还太湖一个清澈的环境,不要让我们的后代继续生活在这片蓝藻泛滥的土地!

Must take action!

A healthy lake ecosystem should look clear and transparent, diverse in aquatic plants; this is what we called as clear condition. However, once catastrophe occurs, it will cause algae bloom, the water condition become cloudy, which is the clouding condition. Both of these conditions are stable, if to reverse the clouding condition, by reducing the nutritive salt to the lowest level and rebuilt aquatic plants, it will takes a long period, Taihu has been under such clouding situation, which has yet effectively reduce the concentration of nutritive salt to the lowest level. For instance, in 1947 the occurrence of algae bloom at Lake Apopka in America, in which government also participate to carry out the study, it has been taken 40 years long, however, the actual engineering work to control the situation just happened in recent 20 years.Within these 60 years, although huge funding has been allocated by government to tackle the issue, eventually the water quality has been improved; but the rebuilt aquatic plant can only survive by the littoral. It is still lots of efforts in order to fully recover the condition. Nowadays, Taihu has followed the path of Lake Apopka. Never too old to learn, never too late to turn. Hope that the local government would take effective action for remedy, return Taihu a clear environment, to avoid next generation continuously living in situation overflowed by blue-algae.


问题的根源在于以GDP考核政府官员业绩

太湖地区某地环保局人士的话:在经济开发区,外资企业不仅享受经济政策上的优惠、在环保上也是不平等竞争。中资企业污染不达标要交排污费,外资企业却免交或少交。因为外资企业是引资重点,能解决当地就业和经济发展。我说:可这不等于为了眼前利益而自毁家园吗?对方说:可是你若不优惠,附近别的城市出的条件比你还低,就把投资夺走了。我感叹:其实你们这地方一直不穷,经济本来不错,值得为多吸引投资这末血拼吗?对方说:咳,投资多经济更好,GDP就高呗,这增加领导政绩喽。我说:但这不是糟蹋一方百姓的家园和子孙后代的利益吗?对方说:这些人才不在乎呢,官当砸了拍屁股走人,污染也影响不到他家头上。

所以问题关键在于, GDP作为考核政府官员业绩的主要指标。事实证明在我国这样政府行为的国家,真是贻害无穷。

The root cause of problem is GDP evaluation of officials

Environmental officials from Taihu Lake district said, at those economic development area, foreign companies do not just benefit from economic policies, and also enjoy inequality in term of competition. Those medium sized companies are paying for charges for disposing pollutants even though they have yet to meet the pollution targets that have been set, however, foreign companies can be excused or paying less on these charges. It is due to foreign companies is the focal point in attracting investment funds. In addition, they will also resolve the local employment issue and encourage economic growth. I say: Are they needed for current benefits at the expense of destroying our homes? The counterpart says: If you don’t grant any preferences and the city nearby offer more favourable conditions, they would definitely win the investment funds. God! In fact, it’s never short of funding and economic growth in this area is always stable, is it worth to work so hard to attract more investment funds? The counterpart says: More investment fund will enhance the economic growth, and increase GDP; this will also reflect leaders’ achievement. I question: Isn’t it destroying the homes of common people and interests of their next generation? They answer: They don’t care and pollution will never cause any impact to them. As such, the crucial point is, GDP is set as the standard to evaluate achievement of government officials. The reality proves that, in a country with a political system like that of China, it will leave as a legacy of trouble.


不是报复,是警告!

昨天发表了一点意见,网管未登.我想告诉马军先生大自然发出的是警告,不是严厉报复.

             李如斯

not retorsion but warning

I post a comment yesterday, but the webmaster didn't approve it. What I want to say is that I want to tell Mr. Ma Jun nature gives us only a warning, not a severe retorsion. Li Rusi


更大的灾难还在后面

假如中国不改变对环境与经济增长之间关系的认识,也许不到20年,我们的国家就会陷入一场自然浩劫当中,灾难会此起彼伏。真希望太湖事件能让我们在全国开展一次不间断的大讨论。我们这辈人根本不顾及我们的孩子的将来命运。很悲哀!

Even Worse Disasters to Come

If China does not change the perception for the relationship between the environment and its economic growth, maybe in less than 20 years, the country will run into a natural catastrophe, from when more disasters will be expected. Sincerely hope that the Taihu Lake Incident can prompt us to carry out a continuing discussion nationwide. It is such a pity that our generation does not care about the children’s future at all.


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