MAC: Mines and Communities

Group Monitors China's Water Polluters Using Online Mapping

Published by MAC on 2006-09-26
Source: China Watch (Worldwatch)

Group Monitors China's Water Polluters Using Online Mapping

Ke Zhang , China Watch (Worldwatch)

26th September 2006

On September 14, a Beijing-based environmental organization began operating China’s first public database of nationwide water pollution. The so-called China Water Pollution Map enables users to survey water quality, monitor pollution discharges, and track pollution sources using digital mapping. Data are available for 2004, 2005, and 2006 and are taken mainly from the 2004 China Environmental Statistics Communiqués and from regional bulletins on environmental and water quality.

Ma Jun, director of the nongovernmental Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, which is building the database, says the main goal of the mapping is to expose the worst polluting businesses and to push them to shoulder their environmental responsibilities. Ma is the author of China’s Water Crisis, a 1999 book that has been likened to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in terms of its impact in awakening the Chinese public to environmental concerns. A former investigative journalist, he is an expert in water pollution issues and was featured in the 2006 edition of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.”

Ma believes that water pollution is one of China’s most serious environmental concerns. Statistics reveal that more than 70 percent of all rivers and lakes in the country have been polluted, and more than half of urban groundwater is contaminated. According to China’s top environmental authorities, one water pollution incident takes place every two to three days, on average. The high frequency of such accidents is attributed in part to the nation’s poor industrial layout. Of the more than 20,000 petrochemical enterprises nationwide, 14,000 are located along the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers (China’s two major east-west water arteries), and 2,000 are situated at drinking water sources and in highly populated regions.

Ma Jun believes that to control water pollution, China must strengthen its law enforcement. But doing so will require breaking the existing links between special interests, he notes. The government will also need to allow for broader public participation and to make environmental information available to the public. Constructing the new water pollution database is an important first step toward greater transparency of information, Ma says.

The database currently lists more than 2,500 polluting enterprises, including many influential ones. For Beijing, for example, the category “who’s poisoning our hometown rivers” lists several prominent local enterprises, including Beijing Guixianghe Soybean Industry Corporation and Beijing Automobile Works Co. Ltd.

The database also tracks sewage treatment facilities, which have been pervasively dysfunctional across the country. The list of “factories that fail to meet the standards for water quality” includes treatment plants in Yinchuan and Guyuan cities.

The map is far from complete in its coverage, Ma admits, explaining that the next step will be to collect more regional water pollution information, to locate polluters, and to enter them onto the digital map.

His organization will work with other environmental groups in China to carry out field investigations and to monitor water quality as well as pollution sources and discharges.

Ke Zhang is a senior journalist with China Business Network Daily.


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