June 8, 2006

China’s Yellow River estuary “cleanest in years”

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Yellow River delta estuary is
the cleanest in years, state media said on Friday, despite
recent reports that most China's second-longest river is so
polluted it is unsafe for swimming or drinking.

The estuary drains the river, the cradle of early Chinese
civilization, into the Bohai Sea off the booming eastern
province of Shandong after a winding, 5,400-km (3,300-mile)
journey from its source in the Tibet-Qinghai plateau.

Environmental protection efforts and increased rainfall had
expanded the river delta's natural wetlands and attracted bird
and fish species that fled the polluted waters years before,
the China Daily quoted officials as saying.

"The increasing water flow has contributed significantly to
the local eco-system revival," an environmental official was
quoted as saying.

The sound report card flies in the face of previous studies
that have condemned the river system as a toxic drain for
sewage, industrial waste, fertilizer and other pollutants.

Last year, state media reported that as much as 72.3
percent of the Yellow River, which supplies water to 12 percent
of China's 1.3 billion people and 15 percent of its farmland,
was unsafe for drinking or swimming.

China has pledged billions to clean up the river in keeping
with the country's five-year development plan approved in March
which urged greater respect for sustainable development.

But spotty regional enforcement and misuse of funds have
hampered the recovery of river systems. China's longest river,
the Yangtze, was "cancerous" with pollution, state media said
last month.

China's auditors revealed in March that local governments
had spent some 2.4 billion yuan ($299 million) allocated for
water treatment to fund other projects, set up businesses,
build offices or buy cars.