New plan for Bohai Sea unlikely to end crisis

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2007, 12:00am

A national plan will soon be unveiled to tackle the appalling pollution in the Bohai Sea, which seriously threatens the Bohai region's economic rise.

The plan, to be released by year's end, involves the most comprehensive anti-pollution campaign yet for the sea, involving 10 central government departments, according to maritime sources.

A clean-up campaign led by the State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) and launched in 2001 has been unable to stop the worsening pollution.

The Bohai region has been tipped to grow in the next decade into the mainland's third-biggest economic powerhouse after the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta.

The new plan, led by the National Development and Reform Commission, also aims to end a long-running dispute between maritime and environmental authorities over which department should take charge of the multi-billion-yuan clean-up.

'It is a plan on how to completely clean up pollution in the Bohai Sea,' the sources said.

'We have more practical goals such as bringing the marine pollution under control first and cutting land-based discharges of pollution in the next 10 to 20 years.'

Sepa, the State Oceanic Administration, and the ministries of finance, construction, communications, water resources, technology and agriculture, and local authorities in the region will be involved.

It is unclear if the new plan will replace Sepa's Blue Sea Action Programme, which it has been trumpeted as having achieved notable results, with the Bohai Sea now supposedly only slightly polluted.

But maritime authorities' statistics reveal a grim picture of coastal and marine devastation, with environmental experts warning the sea could be dead in 10 years from industrial discharges and sewage.

However, an unusually open row over the assessment of clean-up efforts was unlikely to end with the release of the new plan, analysts said.

'Various government agencies, research and financial institutions have been working on many different pollution control plans focusing on the Bohai Sea. But many of them have been done in a rush without thorough scientific studies,' Tianjin University environmental engineering expert Tao Jianhua said.

One proposal, to divert water from the Yellow Sea by building a 100 billion yuan canal in Shandong linking the two seas, has been widely reported in the mainland media in the past two days.

The ambitious proposal, put forth by a senior maritime official in Shandong, would see a 130km-long canal, 200 metres wide and 10 metres deep, roughly follow the Jiaolai River between the cities of Laizhou and Jiaozhou .

'It may be called a bold idea, but I don't think the pollution of the Bohai Sea can be stopped by a canal project,' Professor Tao said.

'We should be extremely cautious when we consider the feasibility of such a huge project, which is set to have a lot of long-term ecological impacts not only on our own country but also on our neighbours,' she added referring to concerns from Japan and South Korea over the mainland's marine development.

Maritime officials and experts in Beijing have also cast doubt over the proposal, saying the canal idea was not based on solid scientific research and would cause other environmental problems to already fragile coastal eco-systems.

'It would be better if the funding for such a grandiose project could be directly used to cut marine pollution,' a maritime expert said.