China´s list of environmental problems is mind-boggling, but the water pollution might be the worst, writes urbanization expert Sara Hsu in the Diplomat. For many pollution induced cancer is coming too close, time is running out.
Much has been said about China’s air pollution dilemma, with smog so thick in many urban areas that simply getting to and from work can pose a health hazard. Less has been written about the pollution of China’s water. In fact, water pollution in China is at least as bad – so severe that it has been proven to cause gastrointestinal and other types of cancer in some villages. Although these “cancer villages” have been around since the nineties, the government only recently recognized their presence. Many times in these cases, the pollution is caused by chemical dumping from nearby factories.
Dumping of industrial chemicals, agricultural waste, and urban wastewater has contaminated China’s water resources such that over half of all rivers in the country are unsafe for human contact. About 70 percent of the water pollution nationwide comes from agriculture, particularly runoff from fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste. The presence of heavy metals in seafood and rice has become increasingly common, passing on water contamination to the food supply. At the same time, while most water use comes from the agricultural industry in rural areas, poor households in the same areas find themselves increasingly disadvantaged when it comes to securing clean water. For these households, clean water has become progressively scarcer.
The main problem with China’s environmental control system has been one of enforcement. Water resource management involves many government institutions and insufficient coordination among them. What is more, local officials, who have been required to support local enterprises, have also had to uphold environmental laws. Because of the emphasis on generating GDP, the environment has been seriously neglected. Decentralization has led to taking into account the economic needs of the local area or province only. Decentralization of the coastal zone has also led to inattention to environmental needs. China’s coastline is extensive, divided into twelve units that are administered by separate bodies. Because of a lack of coordination and a beggar-thy-neighbor attitude, residents of these provinces have suffered as the environment has grown steadily worse…
There is hope that China’s “War on Pollution,” declared at the National People’s Congress this past March, will eliminate some of the worst water pollution. The National Development and Reform Commission has announced that it will address agricultural pollution this year. In addition, RMB2 trillion ($330 billion) has been pledged to tackle water pollution. The best that the leadership could do would be to ensure proper incentives for economic agents not to pollute. They must be aware of the fact that they cannot win the war on pollution without fundamentally changing how the war is fought and who is leading the battles. With climate change settling in, the stakes are high and the pressure is immense; time is running out.
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