From: Reuters
Published May 26, 2005 12:00 AM

China's Yellow River Plagued by Pollution

BEIJING — Most of the Yellow River, the second-longest in China and the cradle of early Chinese civilisation, is so polluted it is not safe for drinking or swimming, Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.

Nearly three-quarters of the river, which supplies water to 12 percent of China's 1.3 billion people and 15 percent of its farmland, had been badly tainted by sewage, industrial waste, fertiliser and other pollutants, it said.

"A government report said as much as 72.3 percent of the water in the Yellow River has dropped below the third category," the agency said, referring to a national water quality standard for drinking water, "breeding aquatics, fishery and swimming".

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 record.


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 industry.

Damage to the Yellow River, which cuts across the country from west to east, translated to around 11.5 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) a year in economic losses, Xinhua said, quoting a Tuesday report from the China News Service.

China has built more than 20 hydropower stations along the river and plans to have an eventual total of 38.

"The water resources development and utilisation rate along the Yellow River valley is as high as 70 percent, much higher than the internationally recognised warning level of 40 percent," Xinhua said.

That is a problem likely to only get worse when the river is tapped in China's ambitious South-North water diversion scheme, a plan to pump water from southern waterways to the parched north.

Nearly 45 billion cubic metres of water from the Yellow, Yangtze and other rivers will be sent north every year when the project is finished in 2050, at an estimated total cost of almost 500 billion yuan, twice that of the massive Three Gorges Dam.

The national environmental protection agency has acknowledged that unless local governments and industries start getting serious about cutting pollution, most of the water shipped north will not be fit to drink.

Source: Reuters

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