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Water Pollution

High levels of water pollution, in China and other places, further reduces the availability of supplies.  Like air pollution, water pollution is also a common source of ill health, and can kill, the WHO attributes 2 million deaths a year to unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene.[1] In addition, poor health is also caused by poor water, according to the WHO, at least 1.8 billion people use a drinking-water source contaminated with faeces.[2]

China has long had a problem with water pollution, and this is even more important given the context of China’s shortage of water resources. Pollution issues, and the related problem of shortages of useable water, have been exasperated by rapid urbanization and the formation of megacities in regions like the Pearl River. Shao et al note that “In a survey of more than 600 Chinese cities, two-thirds had inadequate water supplies, while 1 in 6 experienced severe water shortages”.[3] Rapid urbanization also saw a doubling in domestic sewage discharges from 13.1 billion tons in 1995 to 26.1 billion tons in 2004.[4]“fome fdischarges from 13.1 billion tons in 1995 to 26.1 billion tons in 2004.ison ny water.  social breakdown, you cannot prote Like many other countries, China has also seen a rise in pollution from harmful chemicals entering the water system. There are high concentrations of butyltins in the rivers, lakes, and coastal waters of China, together with high concentrations of atrazine in some rivers, which have, like butyltins, been linked to detrimental effects in wildlife. Dioxins are also found in the environment in China and are by-products of the chloralkali process, used to produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide, and from processes used by the paper industry.[5] Poor implementation of regulations, local corruption and mismanagement are responsible for industrial pollution, and this is a particular problem in emerging economies.

In 1999 Ma Jun published “China’s Water Crisis” in Chinese, an English edition followed in 2004, and she describes how all of China’s great rivers are now seriously compromised, including the Yellow River and the Yangtze. She says, “In general, the whole of northern China suffers from scarcity of water, with the Yellow River being the most obvious example. The flow of this ‘mother river’ began halting periodically in 1972, and in 1997 not a single drop of water reached the sea for a 330 day period. The once mighty river has by now become a small filthy stream that cannot even flush much of its sediment into the sea.”[6]

[1] “Facts and figures in water quality and health”, World Health Organization, Geneva, http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/facts_figures/en/ accessed 25 October 2015

[2] “Drinking-water Fact Sheet N°391”,
 World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva, June 2015

[3] Min Shao, Xiaoyan Tang*, Yuanhang Zhang, and Wenjun Li – “City clusters in China: air and surface water pollution”, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Vol. 4, Issue 7, (September 2006), pp. 353–361

[4] ibid

[5] An, Wei and Hu, Jianying – “Effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals on China’s rivers and coastal waters”, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 4, Volume 4, Issue 7 (September 2006): pp 353–361

[6] Jun, Ma – “China’s Water Crisis”, EastBridge, Norfolk, Connecticut, 2004, p. vii

© Andrew Palmer, 2015

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