[BEIJING] A project to improve water quality in China has been launched by the government, which says it is the largest expenditure on environmental protection since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.
The project, which has an estimated budget of more than 30 billion Chinese yuan (around 4.4 billion US dollars) over 12 years, aims to counter the deteriorating water quality affecting millions of Chinese people and their livelihoods.
The Water Pollution Control and Management Project — known as 'Water Special Project' — will focus on the treatment of whole river basins instead of the conventional approach of end-pipe treatment, according to Meng Wei, chief engineer of the project and director of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.
By taking this approach the treatment of the highly polluted Lake Tai, for example, the third largest freshwater lake in China, will benefit not just Shanghai but also the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
Coordinated by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, the aim of the project is to guarantee safe drinking water and improve the overall water environment, Meng said.
The safety of drinking water has become a great concern in China. Some 64 per cent of the water reaching urban areas is categorised as suitable only for industrial or agricultural purposes and half of cities have suffered groundwater pollution to some degree, according to Liu Yanhua, vice minister of science and technology, at the launch of the project last month (19 February).
In the summer of 2007 an outbreak of algae around Taihu Lake left more than one million people in the city of Wuxi — in the economically-advanced Jiangsu Province — without access to drinking water for two days.
And when a drought reached its peak in early February it was affecting 10.7 million hectares of farmland in at least 12 provinces in northern China. (See China's water deficit 'will create food shortage')
A number of demonstration projects will be carried out at major rivers across China, such as Haihe, Huaihe, Liaohe and Songhuajiang, as well as Lake Tai and the Three Gorges.
But Qin Boqiang, a researcher at the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, said the government should focus on controlling the sources of pollution instead of treating it after it happens.
"We cannot develop economy at the expense of the environment," he told SciDev.Net
The water programme is one of the 16 key projects listed in the National Mid-Term and Long-Term Science and Technology Development Plan (2006–2020) issued by the State Council in 2006, which provides guidelines for China's science and technology development for the next 15 years.