January 3, 2006

China water company wins Yellow River pollution suit

BEIJING (Reuters) - The first lawsuit seeking compensation
for pollution of China's second longest river has been
successful, a state newspaper said on Wednesday, as Beijing
faces a growing water crisis.

Almost three-quarters of the Yellow River, the cradle of
early Chinese civilization, was so polluted it was not safe for
drinking or swimming, state media said last year.

Three companies in the northern region of Inner Mongolia
agreed to pay a total of 2.3 million yuan ($285,100) for
polluting more than 400 km (240 miles) of the river in 2004,
the China Youth Daily said.

But that was less than the 2.89 million yuan the plaintiff,
a water company in the Inner Mongolian city of Baotou, was
originally granted in compensation, the newspaper added.

After an appeal, the three companies and the water firm
agreed via arbitration to the lower figure, the report said.

The river, which supplies water to 12 percent of China's
1.3 billion people and 15 percent of its farmland, has been
badly tainted by sewage, industrial waste, fertilizer and other

The Yellow River, which gets its name for the yellow-brown
silt it carries, has long been known as "China's sorrow"
because of its legacy of suddenly shifting course and flooding,
killing countless people over the ages.

A million people are believed to have died when the river
flooded in 1887 in the world's deadliest natural disaster on

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 and uncooperative

Last year, an explosion at a chemical plant in northeastern
China poisoned drinking water for millions and sent a toxic
slick heading toward Russia.

China's top environmental minister resigned after the
November 13 Jilin accident and a vice mayor in charge of
evacuating the city where the explosion occurred was said to
have hanged himself.