Our toxics campaigner Wu Yixiu recently appeared on CCTV to discuss China's severe water pollution problem. Head to CCTV to watch the interview or read the transcript below.
According to the World Bank, the consequences of water pollution here in China could be catastrophic for future generations. It estimates that half of China's population lacks basic access to clean and safe drinking water.
W: For a lot of us water is just an everyday thing, but not everyone realises the tremendous challenges that China is facing in tackling water pollution. Currently 35% of the water in China cannot meet the basic standard of drinking. Let that sink in for a moment: 35% of rivers cannot be drunk. And if you look at the countryside about 35% of the people living in the countryside do not have access to the drinking water. Their drinking water cannot meet the basic hygiene standard. This is a very real problem that requires immediate action.
And as I understand one of the biggest reasons for this is the rapid industrialisation that we've seen over the last 30 years, particularly in the well-off provinces of the coastal areas, whether it's in the east or the south. According to one study by the Chinese Government released last year, 8 out of 10 coastal cities discharge excessive amounts of pollutants into the sea. How can this problem be tackled?
W: A lot of these problems are related to the massive waste water coming from the industrial water pollution. I think one of the most pressing problems is China's incomplete water monitoring system. For example China's water monitoring system only looks into the overall water quality situation: such as the chemical oxygen demand and the overall nitrogen. But that kind of data doesn't tell us exactly what kind of chemicals are being dumped into the river.
And if you look elsewhere in the world, the US and the EU, they look into a number of chemicals which are organic, persistent and toxic. So our demand is that China should set up a much more comprehensive water quality monitoring system, to look into exactly what kind of chemicals are being dumped into the river.
I believe China dumps something like almost 12 million pounds of organic pollutants into its water bodies. Tell us, folks like yourself who have been battling for cleaner water and safer, drinking water, what are the biggest obstacles you face, outside of having a better monitoring system?
W: I think one of the pressing issues is environmental information disclosure. We know that China has been monitoring the water but only part of the information is being made public. So the general public faces a lot of challenges in accessing basic water quality information. And if they don't know what kind of water they are drinking, they cannot put in a better monitoring and supervision role. The government should be more open and more relaxed in letting the general public know what is exactly in the water.