60pc of Yellow River's water unfit to drink

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 December, 2006, 12:00am

The health of China's second-longest river is worsening, with 60 per cent of the Yellow River's water now unfit to drink. The rate of its deterioration is alarming, an expert said yesterday.

Only 40 per cent of the 5,464km-long river can be categorised as level three in a five-level evaluation system for water quality, says an annual report by the Yellow River Water Resources Commission.

'Level three means the water is tolerable for drinking, which means it's still safe to drink after certain treatment,' said Ma Jun , head of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing.

More than 36 per cent of the river was categorised as level five - the lowest grade - the report said.

The river runs through nine northern provinces and provides water to 155 million people and 15 per cent of the country's farmland. Last year it had to absorb the discharge of 4.35 billion tonnes of waste water. Discharges, 70 per cent of them from factories, rose by 88 million tonnes year on year.

'This is an alarmingly high rate of deterioration in water quality, and demands a high degree of attention from the central authorities,' said Mr Ma, the country's top water expert.

Apart from its worsening pollution, the Yellow River, known as the cradle of Chinese civilisation, is drying up despite efforts to conserve water use and increase its flow.

Only 20.4 billion cubic metres of the river's water reached the sea last year, almost the same as the previous year, despite efforts to divert water into the Yellow River and higher water prices for consumers.

Waste water containing dye from a paper plant in Lanzhou , Gansu province , turned part of the river red last month. Provincial authorities said on Tuesday the paper plant had been dumping 2,500 tonnes of waste water a day into the river.