Comment

Challenges abound in vulnerable areas

By Wen Jia (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-16 08:06
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The paradox of development and environment is most obvious on the sad faces of the lead-poisoned children in central and western China and their perplexed farmer parents.

For centuries, people in underdeveloped areas have been tilling their land and patiently awaited modernization. They ignored the fact that some of the country folks were falling prey to strange diseases after returning from contaminated workshops near the coast, and some of them dying.

Now, it seems their turn might come as eastern China's industries shift westward in quest of cheaper labor and land.

Not at a perfect time though. The greenhouse gases accumulated over decades of industrialization elsewhere have closed the way for them to repeat the growth stories of eastern brothers.

While they rush to embrace industrial chimneys moved near their homes, their hearts are ripped apart by the recent lead poisoning scandals in Shaanxi, Hunan and Henan provinces that sent thousands of their children to hospitals.

They may complain about why they and their children should suffer, and why they could not do what others have done so freely for decades. But the cruelness of today leaves them no choice but to share the burden of environmental pollution created by those they do not know, opting for a clean-energy growth.

That is also a path planned for them by the State Council. In a document released on Oct 9, ecological protection is stressed as a must for western regions. So building roads, railways, airports and urban facilities should be coupled with planting trees and returning farmland to greenery.

Singling out "orderly industrial shift" from the east to the west, the State Council stresses "preventing backward capacity from being moved to the west". It stresses the demand for "being strict with industrial policy, environmental protection and intensive exploitation of resources".

Yet such prevention would be better if the measure is letting western areas launch or relaunch industries from a higher starting point. Instead of using what eastern areas used, these regions should focus more on next-generation processing and production.

A higher-level start would keep the west in environmental-friendly growth and help to avoid overcapacity in production.

Such a ground means higher industrial and environmental standards. Marking the World Standards Day on Wednesday, Ji Zhengkun, chief of the State Standardization Administration, said they are making or amending national standards in energy saving, water saving, material saving, land saving, new and renewable energy, use of mineral resources, waste recycling and clean production.

The efforts of Ji's office will also promote good practices for environmental management and foster energy-efficient technologies and services needed badly in the west. It's better Ji's people speed up to apply the standards as soon as possible.

However, the capitalist urge for profit is always stronger than ecological push. This explains why Greenpeace found 18 big names such as Shell, Samsung, Nestle and Shenhua have fudged their pollution information. Worse, not one locality has gone for polluting plants for the sake of GDP. Which explains why the State Council document emphasizes "being strict" three times in a row.

The loopholes that allow for business and administrative wrongdoing should be corrected by legal and administrative means besides public opinion.

To make local governments toe the line, environmental quotas should be included in the evaluation and promotion of officials. A high-handed supervision, represented by the environmental agency of the government should play its role in earnest. This requires that environmental officials, dubbed as having "the toughest jobs under heaven", have their pressure eased by higher authorities and law enforcement.

Strict observance of environmental law is a necessary step. Cost for court proceedings should be lowered for poor victims while penalties awarded should be increased for polluters.

Still, challenges abound for these vulnerable areas with unsatisfactory basis for industrial development, especially when the world has little know-how on achieving industrialization while maintaining sound environment.

But one thing is certain: Shifting of industrial capacity cannot be reloading of the polluters in another area. The tragedy of children being poisoned and adults dying of pollution-related diseases should end there and then.

E-mail: wenjia@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 10/16/2009 page8)