Water Pollution: China’s Growing Pains

Blog post by April Fang

I grew up in Shenyang, an industrial city in the northeast of China. Before water pollution emptied the Hun River, I often went fishing with my father there. If we were lucky, we could catch several kinds of fish in a few hours.

 The Hun River in Liaoning Province was clear, clean, and full of carp, crucian, and bass. Then, in the early 1990s, steel and coal plants started popping up along the riverbank. The toxic runoff from these industries contaminated the river, and now the fish are fewer and fewer.

The Guangzhou River (CanadaGood, Flickr)

Sadly, this type of devastating water pollution is not uncommon. China is developing very quickly economically, but with little regard for sustainable development and environmental protection. China is facing many environmental issues from e-waste towns to deforestation from excessive logging and water pollution from local industries. Social inequality also ties into the environmental issues.

Most industrial companies move to rural areas, where the surrounding communities are low-income farmers whose income depends on crop production.  Without the means to move or access clean water, these people have no choice but to drink contaminated water and feed contaminated food to their children. They suffer from cancer and die early at far higher rates than wealthier people who live in urban areas with clean water and fresh food.

Industries in China are ostensibly subject to government regulation. However, it is usually a revolving door between the local government and business, and the government does not intervene in business’ practices.

In order for China to thrive in the long run, it desperately needs to regulate local businesses and educate people on the importance of sustainable development and environmental protection.

Fortunately, Internet media is growing quickly, and activists are using it to push the Chinese government to regulate polluting industries. The Chinese government should hear the grassroots voice and address both social and environmental issues.

In 2001, the city of Shenyang started to build a number of sewage treatment factories and man-made wetlands to deal with the pollution in my hometown. With more and more effort from the authorities, the water quality of Hun River has improved. When I visited last year, there were still fewer fish and grayer water than the river of my childhood. However, with the new efforts being made, I am confident that one day I will be able to bring my family to fish again.

 © 2012 SCGH, LLC. 

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