Pollution of water sources to be tackled

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am


Beijing has pledged to pursue a decade-long battle against widespread pollution of underground water sources that put the health of more than 400 million people at risk.

A State Council meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday approved a long-awaited blueprint for tackling acute groundwater contamination. Nearly 70 per cent of the country's total population relies on underground water sources, according to official figures reported by the Economic Observer.

Nearly 59 billion yuan (HK$72 billion) has been earmarked in Beijing's bid to bring mounting groundwater pollution woes under control by 2020, the Economic Observer said.

Although the move highlights the government's determination to give greater prominence to the overuse and pollution of groundwater, analysts said it may come too late to handle the nation's looming water crisis.

According to Xinhua, while groundwater accounts for 18 per cent of the national water supply, it has become the lifeblood of China's parched north. It accounts for 65 per cent of the freshwater supply for domestic use, 50 per cent for industry and 33 per cent for irrigation and farming in northern areas.

'With the acceleration of urbanisation and industrialisation, many parts of the country have seen serious overuse of groundwater, as well as the continuous drop of underground water levels,' a brief statement from the meeting said, according to Xinhua.

The overall quality of groundwater has deteriorated rapidly in recent years because of the government's inability to cope with a long list of environmental hazards including urban sewage, household refuse, industrial waste and the widespread use of fertilisers and pesticides, it added.

The blueprint calls on local authorities to give priority to controlling groundwater contamination and sets a 2015 target for setting up a national supervision mechanism.

But Chinese media and environmentalists said the new plan may have underestimated the seriousness of the problem.

An unnamed expert involved in the drafting of the plan cited Ministry of Environmental Protection figures that at least 90 per cent of underground water sources have been contaminated, with 60 per cent of them deemed 'severely polluted', posing grave health and environmental challenges.

Environmentalists said the plan was first drafted in 2006 by the ministries of environment and land and resources, but it failed to gain approval for years because of official bickering and other factors.

Qiu Weiduo, a retired senior engineer from the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research, said the ambitious goals set in the blueprint would be hard to achieve.

'The government is good at setting attractive targets but often falls short of rolling out feasible measures,' Qiu said. 'It happens not only with water resources management but with almost all environmental woes.'