River pollution affects a sixth of Chinese population

Two rivers supplying water to one sixth of the people in China are heavily polluted and threaten the health of the population, according to state media.

The Huaihe River in eastern China and the northeastern Liaohe River are both severely contaminated with harmful chemicals and effluent, despite a decade spent trying to clean the waters, state-owned China Daily reported on Monday.

Although the chemical oxygen demand (COD), the standard used to judge water quality by Chinese environmental regulators, has been decreasing since 2004 in the Huaihe, it was still about 83% above the safe level last year.

The pollution threatens drinking water safety in cities along the river, as many of them draw from the river for their waterworks. A report from the environment and resources protection committee of the National People’s Congress said that only half the water taken from the river met the safety standard in the worst-affected cities.

The report also showed that 80% of the groundwater as deep as 50 meters along the Huaihe River is seriously polluted.

Pollution in the Huaihe River poses a threat to the huge project to divert water from the south to the north, the report warned.

“The water diversion will start next year. If the situation continues, the water quality cannot be ensured,” committee chairman Mao Rubai was quoted as saying.

Things look even worse for the Liaohe River, where pollution is still on the rise.

Mao said cities along the two rivers were both the victims and the cause of the pollution.

According to the report, about 40% of sewage from Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan, goes into a main tributary of the Huaihe River without being properly treated. The situation is even worse in eight cities in Anhui Province where half the raw sewage is directly discharged into the river.

In Shenyang, capital city of the northeastern Liaoning Province, 400,000 tonnes of sewage is released into a major tributary of the Liaohe River every day.

The pollution issues in both rivers are treatable, said Mao, but the problem comes back to a lack of funding.

Only half the money needed to do an adequate job was made available between 2000 and 2005, he said, and only a fifth of the US$20bn promised by Government to build wastewater treatment plants had actually materialised.

David Gibbs

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