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Polluted rivers foul city's image
By Chen Hong (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-05-31 05:37

SHENZHEN: Shortly after he moved to an old apartment in Ludancun, a community where two heavily polluted rivers meet, Wu Ting began regretting his decision.

"I thought I'd prepared myself well psychologically to adapt to the unpleasant environment here, but it turned out much worse," said the accountant in his 20s.

After taking into consideration the low rent and convenient transportation to his office, he settled down in the 20-year-old housing estate in the south of Shenzhen in April.

As expected, the two rivers, the Shenzhen and the Buji, caused terrible odours to fill every corner of his apartment when the windows were opened. When the windows were closed, he suffocated in the humid and hot weather.

The more unbearable thing for Wu was the numerous annoying mosquitoes the foul dark rivers have nurtured. They prompted him to be determined to move out as quickly as possible.

Wu is much luckier when compared with Wang Faxiang, who has lived in the same estate for about 17 years.

"When we first moved in at the end of 1988, we would open the windows overlooking the river and the farmland beyond. Pretty views back then," Wang recalled.

However, the rivers gradually became darker, fouler and smellier beginning in the early 1990s as a result of the increasing pollution.

"Now a prevailing joke in the city is that passengers can immediately tell when the bus stop at the Ludan Estates is nearing. You can smell it," Wang said.

According to local water treatment departments, of the 310 rivers and streams running through the city, some 73 per cent, or 227, are suffering from pollution.

The official figures also show that about 350 square kilometres, or 17 per cent of the total area of the city, are affected, including some densely populated areas.

The Shenzhen River, which runs along the Ludancun and separates the two brilliant cities of Hong Kong and Shenzhen, is one of the most polluted urban rivers in China. So are its two other branches, the Buji River and Maozhou River.

The red hot pace of economic development and population expansion are widely blamed for the water quality deterioration. A small fishing village, Shenzhen has achieved more than 342 billion yuan (US$41.3 billion) gross domestic product (GDP) last year after 24 years of fast development, leading the country in terms of per capita GDP.

Meanwhile, the population keeps on rising, reaching nearly 10 million in 2004, or some 5,000 people per square kilometre.

At the same time, environmentally-friendly urban planning, construction and management are lagging far behind.

Because of insufficient sewage treatment facilities and the improper arrangement of the sewage collection network, about 40 per cent of the 1.4 million cubic metres of sewage generated daily is discharged into the rivers and the ocean directly without any treatment.

The local government, which began to address the water quality problems eight years ago, has failed to stop deterioration despite a generous investment.

It's estimated that a total of 4.2 billion yuan (US$507.2 million) has been injected in fighting river pollution since 2000.

"As far as residents can see and smell, there has been little improvement in the river environment," said Tang Yingzhao, who just returned from Canada after staying there for three years.

Most of the people polled by China Daily hold the same views as Tang.

Water officials defend themselves, saying that every penny of the special fund have made a difference, though some plans should be reviewed in terms of their feasibility.

"A majority of the special funds have been used to construct sewage treatment factories and improve the network to collect sewage. Both projects take time and money," a director surnamed Wu with the Shenzhen Water Pollution Treatment Command Office said. He declined to give his full name.

A lack of fresh water sources that has turned the treatment efforts less efficient, he added.

"We have underestimated the complexity and difficulty of river pollution, but now we are more down-to-earth and regard it as a long-term battle," he said.

Song Qiang, director of the water protection department under the Shenzhen Environmental Protection Bureau, cited the experiences of Britain and Japan in cleaning their rivers, saying that it will take a total of 20 billion yuan (US$2.4 billion) and at least another decade to make the rivers clean.

After inviting a group of experts from the Ministry of Water Resources and top science and engineering institutes to review the whole project and putting forward an optimized plan early this month, the government announced the rivers will recover from serious pollution in 10 years, and part of the sections will be transformed into river parks for residents.

To achieve the goal, at least 90 per cent of the sewage collected inside the special economic zone will be discharged after careful treatment by 2007. Darkness and odour are expected to disappear from the Shenzhen River and other main streams by then.

Vice-Mayor Lu Ruifeng said the government plans to invest an additional 2 billion yuan (US$241.5 million) in anti-water pollution this year, the biggest investment for this purpose since the city was founded. It will be used in 67 projects, including infrastructure to prevent the four major reservoirs from being polluted.

The budget will be approved in the coming annual meeting of the local legislative body, which is expected to start on June 28.

"Although the result is not obvious, we could see government has done quite a few things to improve the water quality and we hope the government could keep up its efforts for the sake of its residents," said Yang Min, a company employee who has lived in Shenzhen for more than 20 years.

(China Daily 05/31/2005 page5)

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