A massive pollution cleanup is falling far behind schedule, according to a leading environmental official. The director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, Xie Zhenhua, told the China Youth Daily work had yet to start on almost two-thirds of the 1,590 projects from the 'Three Rivers and Three Lakes' initiative. Approved by the State Council in 2001, the 123.4 billion yuan (HK$116 billion) scheme is the government's attempt to bring the Huaihe, Haihe, and Liaohe rivers and the Taihu, Chaohu, and Dianchi lakes up to national standards by 2005. It calls for construction of sewage treatment plants, rubbish collection systems, and the closure of highly polluting industries. The six targeted waterways are among the most polluted in the country. About 75 per cent of the Huaihe river, which flows from Henan to Jiangsu, and 60 per cent of Taihe lake in Jiangsu, exceed the country's dirtiest classification standard. With only two years left to meet the cleanup goals, the report said only 247 projects (16.3 per cent) had been completed with a further 310 (20.5 per cent) started. It said cleanup work was furthest behind in Hubei, Anhui and Henan. An environmental protection official told the China Youth Daily that the delays were the result of a lack of investment and lax enforcement of standards by local governments. The plan requires the majority of the work be funded at the local level with some support from the central government. Water experts also blamed the slow pace of the project on the central government's lack of consultation at a local level about the scheme's development and implementation. Ma Jun, a water expert at Beijing-based environmental consulting firm Sinosphere, said: 'When the central government wanted to do this cleanup work, they just told the local governments to do it. Now the locals find a lot of the projects unacceptable.' The mainland has some of the most polluted water in the world as a result of relentless economic growth. A recent report by the State Environmental Protection Administration found that 50 per cent of the country's seven largest river systems exceed the bureau's worst pollution standard.