Yangtze river could be dead in five years

China's longest river is so polluted it could soon be impossible for wildlife to survive and the dozens of cities which rely on it will have to rethink their water supplies.

According to the official state news agency Xinhua worsening pollution in the river, which absorbs 40% of China’s waste water, threatens the water supply of some 186 cities, as well as posing a severe problem to biodiversity.

The largest of the cities on the river is Shanghai, which as a coastal settlement relies on the river for its fresh water.

Lu Jianjian, an academic from East China Normal University, is quoted by Xinhua as saying: “The river is the only source of drinking water in Shanghai, it has been a great challenge to get clean water.”

While industrial waste is the prime suspect for the pollution, agriculture also plays a key role as do spills and emissions from shipping and the sewage from the millions who live along the banks, most of which is pumped into the river untreated.

Yuan Aiguo, a professor at the China University for Geosciences, told Xinhua that many officials were unconcerned by the pollution but experts believed the river was rapidly dying, calling its condition ‘cancerous’.

He said: “The pollution is actually very serious.”

The Yangtze towns are not alone in lacking fresh water with China facing a major crisis as supplies dry up and much of what is left is undrinkable.

Of the country’s 1.3 billion inhabitants, 300 million, almost a quarter of the population, are without clean water, according to official government figures (see related story).

Billions of Yuan have been allocated to river clean up operations in key industrial areas (see related story) and a national emergency response plan aimed at reducing the impact of major pollution incidents (see related story).

Sam Bond

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