From: Chris Buckley, Reuters
Published July 5, 2007 12:00 AM

China Environment Chief Says Pollution Fuelling Unrest

BEIJING -- Chinese anger with worsening pollution is fuelling increasing protests, the nation's top environmental official said, criticising local governments who he said protected factories turning rivers into "sticky glue".

Chief of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), Zhou Shengxian, said discontent with pollution "has resulted in a rising number of 'mass incidents'" -- an official euphemism for riots, protests and collective petitions -- the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Wednesday.

Speaking to officials, Zhou did not give overall numbers for such acts but said SEPA had received 1,814 citizen petitions in the first five months of this year demanding an improved environment, an 8 percent rise on the same period of 2006, Xinhua reported.

The government has been struggling to curb pollution from the factories, mines and industrial plants that have driven frantic growth. China has promised to cut emissions of major pollutants by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010, but last year the country failed to meet the annual target.

Zhou lambasted local officials, eager to generate revenue and jobs, who have fended off pollution controls on local businesses.

"In a considerable number of regions, the Party centre's and State Council's demands in environmental protection have not been implemented," he said.

"Some businesses don't rest deep in the night when they have no scruples about dumping pollution in rivers."

A recent inspection of the Yellow, Yangtze and other major rivers and lakes found that about half the 75 waste water treatment plants checked either under-performed or did not work at all, and 44 percent of 529 businesses checked violated environmental laws, Zhou said.

In some places dumping was so bad that rivers have "turned into sticky glue", he added.

Despite official promises to clean up filthy air and water, China has recently been struck by a series of pollution spills that have drawn sharp criticism from domestic media.

State media reported on Thursday that tap water had been restored to 200,000 residents of Shuyang County in the heavily industrialised province of Jiangsu after a spill of industrial chemicals stopped supplies for about 40 hours.

Another SEPA official said earlier that last year, 26 percent of the length of the country's seven main river systems had pollution of grade 5 or worse, making it unfit for human contact.

About 460,000 Chinese die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air and drinking dirty water, according to a World Bank study.

The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that the Chinese government, the bank's partner in the research project, had asked the lender not to publish the estimates for fear they could intensify public discontent.

At a regular Foreign Ministry briefing on Thursday, spokesman Qin Gang disputed the assertion, saying "the report has not reached its final conclusion, and not been published, thus the so-called situation of China requiring some statistics to be removed did not exist".

Zhou urged officials to root out factories using secret pipes to dump pollution and to halt new projects lacking environmental checks.

"Environmental protection offices and enforcement staff must stand up when the time demands," he said. "Dare to struggle against polluting behaviour." (Additional reporting by Vivi Lin)

Source: Reuters

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