Warning of ecological disaster over farmland pollution

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, 12:00am

China is facing a major ecological disaster with pollution contaminating about one-tenth of its farmland, a senior official in charge of the country's environmental protection work said yesterday.

About 100,000 sq km of farmland in China is contaminated, according to official figures.

Another 21,677 sq km is irrigated by polluted water and more than 1,300 sq km has been illegally turned into dumping sites.

Together, these account for about one-tenth of China's total agricultural land, Zhou Shengxian , director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa), told a national symposium yesterday. Mr Zhou said about 12 million tonnes of crops had to be destroyed each year because of contamination by heavy metals.

This was costing farmers 20 billion yuan a year and threatening public health and the fragile eco-system.

'Local governments seem to know very little about the situation. They have no effective measures to counter these problems. We have no regulations to protect our farmland and our investment in this area is inadequate,' Mr Zhou said. 'The problem is getting worse.'

He said most of the polluted land was concentrated in developed areas and immediate action was needed to avert impending environmental disaster. Sepa and the Ministry of Land and Resources will spend 1 billion yuan over the next three years to study how to solve the problems.

Mr Zhou said the first step was to conduct an extensive nationwide survey to collect scientific data and information.

The focus in the first year will be on the three most affected regions - the Pearl River Delta, the Yangtze River Delta and the northeastern provinces. Authorities will experiment in these regions on how to rehabilitate contaminated land. The scheme would be extended to the rest of the country over the following two years.

'The survey will cover every province and autonomous region except Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan,' Mr Zhou said.

'We must get a clear and precise picture of the situation. We will then categorise the affected land and draw up plans to rehabilitate them.

'In the long term, we have to legislate and educate the public about the problem.'

China has undergone rapid industrialisation in the past two decades.

Many critics blame the government for sacrificing the environment in the interests of blind economic growth.

In some developed regions, pollution has become a serious public issue and even led to social unrest.

One of the most affected areas is agricultural land, which is shrinking rapidly under the pressure of industrialisation.

But the State Council pledged in its 11th five-year plan to give more protection to farmland.

China hopes the total area of its agricultural land can be maintained at 1.2 million sq km in the next five years.