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China’s water resources: environmental security needed

Wang Yongchen

Readinch

China faces a national security threat: its rivers and seas are dying – and polluting industries are to blame. The country needs new laws to protect its precious water resources, writes Wang Yongchen.

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Last month I received a letter from Yun Jianli, head of “Green Han River”, an environmental NGO based in central China’s Hubei province. It described how the day before he had taken a party of eight people to visit three rivers: the Diao, the Tang and the Bai, which they saw blackened by untreated effluent.

The Tang and the Bai flow through the ancient town of Xiangfan, and are the most important tributaries of the Han River, which has a basin that spans 24,500 square kilometres. In the early 1990s, a number of highly polluting enterprises set up in the area, and the once-clear water of the two rivers suffered terribly. Since then, efforts by the local government and Green Han River led to the shut down of paper plants on the river. By 2006, the water was not crystal-clear, but it was a lot than cleaner than it had been. However, Yun’s letter told me: “I had never thought that a year later it would be filthy again.”

Recently I added the names of two corporations mentioned in a provincial environmental report to my map of China’s water pollution. They were both in south China’s Guangdong province: Fu'an Textiles, Printing and Dyeing Company and Meishan Mauri Yeast Company.

I went to visit the first of these two companies. A joint investigation by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) and the Guangdong environmental authorities – prompted by public complaints – had found it to be in serious breach of environmental law. It is understood to be the first complaint from the public that SEPA has ever passed on to the Guangdong authorities. The firm was found to have been secretly discharging almost 20 times the accepted amount of effluent.

Driving to a nearby town, I stopped by the Yun River; the water was pitch-black, a thick layer of oil covered its surface.

Guangdong listed Meishan Mauri Yeast Company as a polluting enterprise in 2002, 2004 and 2006. Standing at the factory gates today you can still smell it. I asked the guard on duty what the odour was. “Nothing to do with us,” he replied.

Pollution is a serious threat to China's rivers – and the country’s seas are also suffering. In October last year, experts predicted that a failure to control pollution will cause the Bohai Sea to die within a decade.

A Xinhua report last month painted a terrible scene: “Effluent has turned the sea a dark red and given it an acrid stench at Guanxi’s Silver Beach, a national tourist attraction. Local staff it is not the first time this has happened – sometimes it occurs every few days. they blame the cleaning runoff from nearby shellfish processing plants.”

China has 18,000 kilometres of coast and over 3 million square kilometres of sea. Protection of this environment is crucial for our economic, social and ecological sustainability. A few years back, I interviewed Zhou Haixiang, a photographer of birds. He indicated out one of his photos: “Next to the sea, here, you can stand on a hill by the coast and look out – but you can't see the sea. All you can see is little black dots: the rafts used to grow kelp. You have to sail out for 50 minutes before you get past them. You can hardly find any natural seaweed on the coast any more.”

And it’s not just the seaweed that's gone – large-scale aquaculture has even stopped the waves. The nets, ropes, cages and floats used – covered in kelp and shellfish – keep the waves down to mere ripples. In summer the sun warms the water on the surface, but the lack of waves stops the water circulating, meaning that top layer just gets hotter. Zhou asked me: how can the ocean remain endless if it can't even breathe?

A SEPA survey showed that 81% of China's 7,500 chemical and petrochemical plants are near environmentally-sensitive areas – densely populated regions or water resources. “To a large degree this is due to local government's own interests,” said the report. “There is no consideration of the environment.”

The pollution of China's rivers and seas is a long-term problem, but Chinese officials only stay in their posts for five years, making it hard to implement environmental assessments. Water pollution is also not constrained by particular areas – it is a mobile problem, and confounds attempts to attribute responsibility. In recent years, environmental protection has been included in the evaluation of local officials' performance, but rarely has it been genuinely enforced.

Water pollution has become China's most pressing environmental issue. A World Health Organization survey found that 80% of human illnesses are related to water pollution. Every year over 25 million children die due to polluted drinking water – more than are made refugees by war.

China is one of the 108 signatories of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities, which was launched by the United Nations Environment Programme and passed by an inter-governmental meeting in Washington in 1995. In the years since, China has made significant achievements in this field. It has continued to manage both its rivers and its seas, it has produced the Bohai Sea “Blue Sea Plan”, it has written guidelines to protect the Liao river and the Zhun River, and implemented the plan for the prevention of Ocean and River pollution. It has brought in the China Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan and National Environmental Protection Outline to strengthen protection of the environment on the mainland, coastal areas and seas.

But tragically, despite all these plans and principles, we are still facing the death of a sea.

Environmental security, as a new aspect of national security, has been attracting increasing international attention. It means ensuring that the environment is free from threats to the basic necessities for human survival and growth. As the global ecological crisis has worsened, international environmental law has developed quickly to protect species and biological resources and save the atmosphere and the oceans. Many western countries, besides having conventional environmental laws, also have an “environmental security law” to deal with ecological incidents and assign criminal liability.

China deals with environmental accidents incidents through financial compensation and civil proceedings. Criminal prosecutions are rare – occasionally the charge of 'endangering public security' is used, but this is imprecise. To deal with frequent environmental incidents and increase the cost of environmental crime, experts str calling for this kind of security law.

Zhou Ke, a professor at Renmin University Law School, says that the nation’s sustainable development relies on the sustainable development of its environment and the realisation of continuing environmental degradation. Understanding this urgency gives rise to a strategic view of environmental security.

Ensuring environmental security is a huge and complex undertaking. But regardless of the challenges, emphasising the environment's capacity and the state of our resources is vital for sustainable development – and for the security of all of our lives.


Yongcheng Wang is a reporter for China National Radio. Wang founded Green Earth Volunteers, a Chinese environmental NGO, in 1996. She is also a winner of the Globe Award, China's top environmental prize.

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仅在河流源头治理污染是不够的!

最近一篇以治理青海省境内河流源头污染为内容的文章提到,人们将采取行动保护河流源头并解决环境问题,这与本篇文章提到的问题类似。但是制定相关法律真的能解决水污染么?我们已经有太多法律条文和规定了,但是知法犯法的情况还是屡禁不止,所以我认为核心问题是法律的执行,而不是法律的制定。

Tackling the water pollution at the head source of the rivers is not enough!

Recently, a piece of writing titled Tackling the water pollution from the head sources of the river in Qinghai Province quotes people to take action to protect the river from the source and prescribed some serious and severe environmental problems at the sources of three rivers. Similar to this article, can water pollution really be tackled with constituting a policy or law? I think the answer is no, we do have great books of laws, still there are crimes. I think the core problem lies in law enforcement.


执法

提到执法的问题,我今天看到《新京报》24版的报道称山西柳林县环保局长王某因为“企图给污染企业充当保护伞”被停职。不知道这种现象是个别的还是典型的。
Angie

Law enforcement

When it comes to the implementation of Law, today's newspaper reported a Mr. Wang, Director to the Environmental Protection Bureau, Liulin County, Shanxi Province has been fired for his "intent to protect polluting companies". I don't know whether this is a single case or one of many.
Angie


水的问题谁来管?

好像这个水有很多个同级别的政府部门在管,谁听谁的,谁该管什么?这么富有争议的管理肯定分不清责任,所以永远是混水一坛啊。

who will deal with the problems of water?

It seems that many different governmental departments of the same level are dealing with this problem, but what exactly the hierarchy is and what the responsibilities are for each of them? This should be clarified, otherwise there is a mess forever.


环境问题应该综合来看

比如能源浪费,节约可以减少能源的消耗,一定程度也就可以减少污染.
综合解决才能真正达到环境保护的目的.

Environmental problems should be comprehensively considered

In the case of energy wastage, conservation will decrease the consumption of energy, and it will decrease pollution to a certain extent. If we could comprehensively resolve environmental problems, we would really protect the environment.


治理人脑的污染

环境的污染还是看得见的,脑子的污染却是恐怖的,无法琢磨的。靠强权硬法是不解决根本问题的。
现在我们以建设和谐社会为目标,将来就是要建设道德社会了!!

Ridding the mind of pollution

Pollution of the environment is after all a visible phenomenon; pollution of the mind is even more frightening, because it is intangible. Reliance on coercive power and stringent laws will not resolve underlying problems. Our present aim is to establish a harmonious society, but in future we should establish an ethical society!


河流污染

我家门前的河流也是非常污染,在河南省漯河市临颍县城北街学校附近,住在这里十年间,河水发黑,臭气熏人,所有的垃圾都往河里排放,井水又臭又咸。我不相信政府不知道。中国就是这样,悟住缺点。

River pollution

The river in front of my house is also incredibly polluted. During the ten years that I have lived in the neighborhood of the Chengbei Avenue school, located in Lei River city of Linying county, Henan province, the river has turned black, and it emits a repugnant stench. All trash is tossed into the river. Well water is foul and salty. I do not believe that the government is not aware of this. That's just how China is: trying to cover up shortcomings and problems..


所有人都依赖水源

是时候让政府认真进行考虑、并将口头承诺付诸实际解决这个问题。否则,多年后,无论你是政府官员和是平民百姓,我们都将没有清洁的水源。

all humans live on water

It is time for the government to really take this issue into their consideration and do something for it, rather than only making verbal promises. Otherwise, years later we may have no clean water for both governors and ordinary people.


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