MAC: Mines and Communities

Public is Key to Solving China Pollution Woes - Expert

Published by MAC on 2006-09-20

Pubic is Key to Solving China Pollution Woes - Expert

PlanetArk CHINA

20th September 2006

BEIJING - China needs major reforms in the way it handles environmental issues and increased public participation to resolve chronic water shortages and pollution, a leading environmentalist said on Tuesday.

More than two-fifths of cities and tens of millions of rural residents pump used water directly into rivers, turning China's waterways into fetid cesspools. Chemical spills into rivers have forced a cut-off of drinking water supplies at least three times in the past year.

"It's not a matter of technology. It's not particularly a matter of money," said Ma Jun, who wrote the influential book "China's Water Crisis" and now runs an environmental NGO.

"There is an urgent need to reform the environmental governance structure," Ma told the Foreign Correspondents' Club.

Ma has made it his mission to compile a public database on water pollution and environmental offenders across China on his organisation's Web site (, convinced that only with information can the public mobilise against polluters.

"There needs to be a major shift in the way of doing things -- no longer trying just to get permission (for a project) but to lead efforts for public participation," Ma said.

Faced with environmental woes so serious they have become a cause of health problems and even riots, China has begun to emphasise sustainable development over growth at all costs.

But that message has been slow to reach local officials accustomed to being promoted on the basis of economic growth alone and who benefit from industrial projects in their areas.

"To strengthen enforcement, you need to bring some sort of barrier with these interest links," said Ma.

"We can't even enforce environmental standards on the industrial polluters, how can we enforce them on sewage plants, which have closer ties with the authorities?" he asked.

In more than 100 cities there are no urban waste water facilities and in other areas, sewage plants sit idle, unlinked to any pipelines.

Last year, China held its first public hearing on an environmental issue in what Ma said was a step towards greater participation in a country where the Communist government has not typically welcomed bottom-up involvement.

But with the State Environmental Protection Administration employing just a few hundred people, Ma said the challenge was developing capacity to hold more such hearings and strengthen enforcement at local levels.



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