Govt boosts measures to tackle country’s polluted water problem

By Li Ruohan in Hong Kong Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/5 18:38:39

Staff members from the environmental monitoring center in Chun'an county, East China's Zhejiang Province collect surface water on June 6 as the province and its neighboring Anhui Province carries out monitoring work on its joint drainage basin. Photo: IC

Since 2015, when water pollution incidents constantly made front page headlines in China, many people have stopped the common practice of drinking boiled tap water, worrying their health might be affected by unknown contamination in rivers and underground water.

At least one third of China's rivers and lakes are severely polluted and nearly 70 percent of the drinking water in the country's rural areas are unsafe, said Zhang Xiaoquan, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in China, a leading nongovernmental organization that works for global conservation.

Meanwhile, climate change has made the issue even more challenging as China is more severely affected than other countries, Willam McGoldrick, director of TNC's Global Climate Strategy project, said at a seminar in Hong Kong on Thursday.

Climate change has reduced the annual flows in northern China and contributed to 30-40 percent of the flow change in Yellow River. It has also led to more floods in summer and more droughts in winter in southern China, McGoldrick explained.

Under these circumstances, water conservancy is not only a matter of curbing pollution, but also about increasing the efficiency of water usage, such as recycling and reducing water waste, he added.

All-out efforts

Facing the public's concerns and the pressing issue of water shortages, the Chinese government has vowed to make all-out efforts, including enacting the "harshest ever" Action Plan for Prevention and Treatment of Water Pollution, as well as attracting various social groups to find a joint solution.

In the latest move, it amended the Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law in June, which brings the "River Chief" system into being. Under the system, officials assume responsibility for addressing water pollution, including resource protection, waterline management, pollution prevention and control, and ecological restoration.

Polluting companies face a maximum fine of 1 million yuan ($150,000) and suspension or even closure, according to the amended law that will take effect on January 1, 2018.

In severe cases, polluters will be held criminally responsible and could even be charged with the crime of damaging the environment.

The amended law and regulations show the Chinese government's determination to curb water pollution in a practical manner, Li Xuyong, a research fellow in the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said at the Thursday seminar.

The strategy of listing officials' efforts and achievements in curbing water pollution as a significant indicator of their performance has seen clear results, especially in the past year, Li told the Global Times at the seminar.

Multiple approaches

Li focused on three aspects of China's efforts in water pollution control: leadership from the government, action from companies and full participation from the public.

For instance, the public-private partnership (PPP) model has been advocated in the country for years, backed up by preferential policy support. Encouraging the PPP model was written into the Action Plan for Prevention and Treatment of Water Pollution in 2015, followed by a document from the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Environmental Protection on detailed implementation.

This model has prompted different government departments to work together and effectively attract private investment to deal with funding problems, said experts.

According to Li, around 5 trillion yuan is needed for treatment of malodorous, fouled rivers in China by 2020, which means most cities with water pollution problems need around 10 million to 30 million yuan to effectively treat their water.

The safety of drinking water is not only a government priority, but also a social responsibility goal for companies, as water pollution is a problem that affects everyone living in China, Niu Gensheng, vice president of the China Charity Forum and deputy director of the Chinese council of The Nature Conservancy, told the Global Times on Thursday.

However, most PPP are currently from State-owned companies, which means that funding from the private sector is still limited due to concerns over investment-return rates and policy risks, said experts.

Apart from efforts to mobilize the private sector, China is also encouraging participation from academies and international NGOs for professional and diversified solutions.

For instance, TNC has launched "water fund" projects in China to finance projects related to water conservancy.

Capital collected from the trust fund will pay for the costs of encouraging sustainable practices such as developing ecological agriculture and local tourism to replace the traditional agriculture model that has low added value and also results in the contamination of land and water.

Newspaper headline: Clear solutions


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