May 30, 2006

China’s longest river “cancerous” with pollution

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's longest river is "cancerous"
with pollution and rapidly dying, threatening drinking water
supplies in 186 cities along its banks, state media said on

Chinese environmental experts fear worsening pollution
could kill the Yangtze river within five years, Xinhua news
agency said, calling for an urgent clean-up.

"Many officials think the pollution is nothing for the
Yangtze," Xinhua quoted Yuan Aiguo, a professor with the China
University of Geosciences, as saying.

"But the pollution is actually very serious," it added,
warning that experts considered it 'cancerous'."

Industrial waste and sewage, agricultural pollution and
shipping discharges were to blame for the river's declining
health, experts said.

The river, the third longest in the world after the Nile
and the Amazon, runs from remote far west Qinghai and Tibet
through 186 cities including Chongqing, Wuhan and Nanjing and
empties into the sea at Shanghai.

It absorbs more than 40 percent of the country's waste
water, 80 percent is untreated, said Lu Jianjian, from East
China Normal University.

"As the river is the only source of drinking water in
Shanghai, it has been a great challenge for Shanghai to get
clean water," Xinhua quoted him as saying.

China is facing a severe water crisis -- 300 million people
do not have access to drinkable water -- and the government has
been spending heavily to clean major waterways like the Yellow,
Huaihe and Yangtze rivers.

But those clean-up campaigns have made limited progress
because of spotty regional enforcement. Toxic spills are
common, the worst recently being in the Songhua river in the
northeast which led to the taps of Harbin being turned off for

Despite immediate concerns for the cities along its banks,
the Yangtze, along with the Yellow river, is earmarked for
China's ambitious South-North water diversion scheme -- a plan
to pump water from southern waterways to the parched north.

But environmentalists fear that unless local governments
and industries start getting serious about cutting pollution,
most of the water shipped north will not be fit to drink.

Most of the Yellow River, the second-longest in China and
the cradle of early Chinese civilization, is so polluted it is
not safe for drinking or swimming, Xinhua news agency said in
May last year.