Drought has Yangtze under siege

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 June, 2011, 12:00am


The drought that has affected the Yangtze River this year has had a serious impact on the environment, an official said yesterday.

The drought has dried up more than 1,333 hectares of wetland and threatens the survival of migratory birds, Vice-Minister of Environmental Protection Li Ganjie said.

He was speaking at the release of the mainland's 2010 environment communique, an annual assessment of the country's green situation.

Sharp drops in water levels on the lower and middle reaches of the Yangtze had also degregated the water quality in major lakes in the area, including the Dongting, Poyang and Hong, Li said.

Environmentalist Ma Jun, a water-pollution expert, said reduced volume and water flow impeded the lakes' ability to purify the water.

Li denied the Three Gorges Dam had made the drought worse, saying lack of rain was the main cause.

In response to media reports about Jiangxi province's plan to dam a river connecting Poyang Lake to the Yangtze, Li said the ministry had not received an environmental assessment application from the local government.

The annual environment communique said surface water pollution remained serious last year. The mainland's seven major rivers - the Yangtze, Yellow, Pearl, Songhua, Huai, Hai and Liao - as well as coastal waters were all slightly polluted.

Ma said the 'slight pollution' rating for such waters might not match people's experience, because many people lived near the branches of rivers instead of the trunk streams.

He said what people saw in their daily life, especially in eastern provinces, would be much worse. 'For residents in eastern China, it's really hard to find a clean lake,' Ma said. 'And shallow underground water is commonly polluted too.'

Pollution in rural areas had worsened, the communique said.

'Infrastructure for environmental protection in rural areas has lagged a long way behind. There's a distinct lack of regulations and supervision capability,' Li said.

A national survey by the ministry last year found that half of the sources of pollution were in rural areas.

Li said the government would place strict restrictions on development projects in environmentally vulnerable areas in resource-rich Inner Mongolia and other areas with large ethnic populations.

Resource exploitation, especially coal mining, in Inner Mongolia has led to land subsidence and water pollution, and forced herders off grassland.

Li said the ministry was aware of the problems and would help local governments punish enterprises that breached environmental protection laws and regulations.

Protests erupted in the autonomous region last week after a Mongolian herder was knocked down and killed by a coal truck on his land. Many Mongols worry that their grazing lands are being ruined by mining and desertification.

Li said heavy metal pollution, another major concern in recent years, was still severe. There had been seven cases of lead poisoning so far this year, compared with nine for all of last year.

He said government departments had been pushing forward with legislation on heavy metal pollution and the State Council, the mainland's cabinet, had approved a plan to reduce and treat heavy metal pollution over the next five years.