World Ocean Day and Chinese water news round-up

World Ocean Day is here and the G8 summit is on the go, what better time to highlight the marine and freshwater issues plaguing China than today? Here’s a summary of the news items I’ve been collecting recently; many of the issues they involve are covered in the CAB Abstracts database and I’ve included links where they’re accessible to everyone.

  • 11th May – 10% of the flow of the Yellow River is now untreated sewage and industrial discharge, according to the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a Beijing-based NGO. [CAB Abstracts]
  • 21st May – According to a research paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, the Three Gorges Dam retains some 151 million tonnes of sediment each year. The researchers claim that this would lead to significant downstream erosion of riverbanks and the Yangtze delta, impacting on many lives. [CAB Abstracts]
  • 30th May – Outrage from Xiamen residents halted the planned construction of a factory which would produce paraxylene for the textiles industry. Such was the concern of locals for their seaside environment and their health, expressed to city officials through text messages and the Internet, that the project was suspended.
  • 1st June – Taihu Lake in Jiangsu Province was engulfed by a massive bloom of freshwater algae in an event described as being like a green oil paint slick. The water was rendered undrinkable for the nearby city of Wuxi, with a population of 2.3 million. The algae was dispersed after authorities diverted water into the lake from the river Yangtze and seeded clouds with silver iodide to induce rainfall. [CAB Abstracts]
  • 6th June – A red tide of massive proportions has been lurking on the southern coast, near Shenzhen. These blooms of toxic algae pose a serious threat to marine life and consumers of seafood. Discharges of human waste and heavy industry byproducts have been highlighted as factors in producing the bloom. [CAB Abstracts]
  • 7th June – Another lake, Chaohu, in Anhui Province showed the beginnings of an algal bloom, similar to that in Taihu lake, but reports are that control measures are confining the algae, away from population centres. [CAB Abstracts]
  • 7th June –  Pan Yue, deputy head of China’s State Environmental
    Protection Administration, called on the city of Xiamen, proposed site of a chemical factory (see 30th May) to scrap the suspended plans entirely.

The official stance of the government is that China should not have to sacrifice the emissions-intensive economic growth which
industrialized nations went through on their path to greater prosperity. Britain’s industrial revolution was over 100 years ago and was a time of rampant spread of industry. Since then, much has been learned about the effects that human activities have on the environment. Is it a fair argument to push for "emissions-intensive economic growth" on the grounds that someone else did the same thing in the past, before the effects on the world were properly understood? Would it be right to stifle the development of a nation of so many people to safeguard the environment? Will spreading awareness of the health implications of pollution amongst ordinary people change official policy? Comments are welcome!

Pollution and environmental damage look to be commonplace in China, but
at least there are signs of change, or at least awareness of the
problems. The ability of the chinese people to influence the way in which their environment is used and subsequently affects their health could be a key factor in shaping their future.

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