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China's pollution of waters may be beyond saving

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Large outlays of cash to improve water quality in China may do little to reverse damage after decades of pollution and overuse. China's bid for industrial dominance may carry a very heavy price tag, indeed.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Chinese government plans to spend $850 billion to improve filthy water supplies over the next 10 years. China is also promising to invest 650 billion, which is equal to its entire stimulus package during the global financial crisis on rural water projects alone during the 2011-2020 periods. At least $200 billion in additional funds has been earmarked for cleanup projects nationwide.

Chinese waterways are now blighted by algae blooms caused by fertilizer run-off, bubbling chemical spills and untreated sewage discharges. In the five years leading up to 2010, the country spent $112.41 billion on water infrastructure. Sadly, much of its water remains undrinkable. The environment ministry said 43 percent of the locations it was monitoring in 2011 contained water that was not even fit for human contact.

"The reason why they have achieved so little even though they have spent so much on pollution treatment is because they have followed the wrong urbanization model - China is still putting too much pressure on local resources," scholar Zhou Lei at Nanjing University, who has studied water pollution, says.

China is now struggling to fill the estimated annual water supply shortfall of 50 billion cubic meters required to feed growing energy and agricultural demand. The Chinese government simultaneously faces growing pressure to address environmental effects of fast growth.  There is current, widespread public anger over air pollution that blanketed the many northern cities in January.

The huge costs suggest that treatment, rather than prevention remains the preferred solution, with industrial growth paramount and pollution regarded as just another economic opportunity, Zhou said.

"They always treat environmental degradation as an economic issue. China is even using pollution as a resource, and using the opportunity to treat environmental degradation as a way to accumulate new wealth," he says.

China last year vowed to spend another 250 billion yuan on water conservation, and has since allocated a further 130 billion yuan to treat small and medium-sized rivers over the next two years.

East China's Lake Tai, a test case for China's environmental authorities after suffering a notorious bloom of algae and cyanobacteria in 2007, has spent 70 billion yuan in the five years since, far more than what was originally expected.

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