water pollution

Southern China’s million-tonne raw sewage problem

Untreated waste water is pouring into the Pearl River Delta, with only about a third of rivers in Guangdong province meeting minimum standards, environmental watchdog says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 April, 2017, 7:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 April, 2017, 7:03am

At least a million tonnes of raw sewage pours into the waters of Guangdong’s Pearl River Delta in southern China every day, according to the nation’s top government environmental watchdog.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said Guangzhou discharged about 470,000 tonnes of sewage into the Liuxi River and its branches every day.

In addition, 1.07 million tonnes was released into waters in other cities including Shenzhen and Dongguan, according to a report posted on the ministry’s website on Thursday.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said most of the delta’s pollution came from factories and other businesses.

Greenpeace’s toxics campaigner Deng Tingting said pressure from Guangdong’s huge population was among the main drivers of contamination.

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“The residential population of Guangdong is growing rapidly,” Deng said. “If the sewage isn’t managed properly, the polluted water will drain directly into the river system.”

Inspectors from the ministry found that less than half of Shenzhen’s waste water was “collected”, and the city had yet to complete a 4,600km public sewerage network needed to treat its waste, the report said.

Some 35 of Guangzhou’s 51 waterways were deemed severely contaminated despite the city spending 30 billion yuan (US$4.36 billion or HK$33.86 billion) to try to tackle water pollution. The report said lax municipal oversight was to blame.

The inspectors examined the results of tests on water quality at 124 monitoring stations along the province’s 69 major rivers, with the rate of compliance with minimum standards falling from 85.5 per cent in 2013 to 77.4 per cent last year, the report said.

The ministry also lashed out at Shanghai and Chongqing for their lack of action on water pollution.

Leachate from landfills in Shanghai was draining into rivers while sewage from Chongqing was being discharged directlyinto the Chongqing , the report said.

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With almost one-fifth of the world’s population but only 7 per cent of the planet’s fresh water, the mainland has long been plagued by water pollution and scarcity.

Ma said the contamination identified in the ministry’s report was the tip of a national iceberg.

“Air pollution is so obvious that everyone can see it,” he said. “But the water problem has not had enough public attention.”

Ma said reversing water contamination was difficult because it required huge investment and the returns were slow.

The causes of water pollution were also complex and so impossible to tackle without coordination between upstream and downstream cities, he said.

“It is hard for one administration to resolve, affecting the enthusiasm of officials [to do anything],” he said.

Wang Yongchen, founder of environmental NGO Green Earth Volunteers, agreed, saying addressing the problems was a long-term project.

Wang said that while strong winds or “blue-sky campaigns” that involved shutting down factories for special events could yield quick results, water pollution was more broadly based.