China has been home to a horde of low-priced goods and commodities, sharing its end product with almost the entire globe, especially the west. China worked with a single-minded orientation towards colossal economic growth, turning a blind-eye towards the aftermath of its actions, as a result of which it successfully ruined the beautiful environmental legacy encompassing its boundaries.
Some say China will be the next world superpower. Some say, that day has already come. The rapidity of development is applaudable. But at the cost of what? The insane obsession of generating GDP at the expense if everything else is costing much more in terms of life and health. Indiscriminate dumping of industrial chemicals, agricultural and household wastes, excessive mining, unrestrained use of pesticides and fertilizers, industrial and vehicular emissions has resulted in the country ranking very poor in terms of air and water quality standards.
Effect of pollution in China, especially water pollution is not exclusive to just the Chinese. What most people failed to understand was the fact that Chinese waters affects the world indirectly when it merges with the oceans, contaminates the soil, adversely affects the food that is exported and if polluted water cannot be used for irrigation, then Chinese agricultural production falls and global food prices rise.
According to the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs – a Beijing-based NGO, of the 12,226 sites, the surface waters of which has been tested, just 35 per cent have water of good quality, another 32 per cent are suitable for water supply, 20 per cent are suitable for industrial or agricultural use – but not for human contact – and 13 per cent are useless.
Even in Shanghai, one of China’s richest, most environmentally-aware and modern cities, 52 out of 65 monitoring sites have water not suitable for human contact.
About nine per cent of China’s groundwater remains “below grade V”, which means it has “lost function” and is unfit even for industry and irrigation.
According to official data, 70 percent of groundwater samples taken from around the country in the first half of 2018 were deemed fit for human usage, up from 67.9 percent in the previous year. The environment ministry also named 39 cities in August after they failed to meet the water quality standards in the first half of the year.
About 200 million people in China are still drinking unsafe water. The groundwater pollution is taking a very severe form with heavy nitrate contamination due to heavy bypass flow along wells or other conduits. In fact, nitrate contamination is ubiquitous in China’s groundwater. Nitrate is also believed to be responsible for chronic illness of the digestive system and increased incidence of digestive cancers which has given rise to cancer villages in China. Cancer villages are those where the incidence of cancer morbidity or mortality is significantly higher than national averages. The image below shows nitrate concentration in ground water in different parts of China-
According to a recently published monthly groundwater status report of the Ministry of Water Resources, 80% of groundwater samples taken from more than 2000 shallow groundwater monitoring wells in China’s northern basins falls into classes IV and V.
Air pollution took a monstrous shape with industrial and vehicular emissions on the rise over the years giving rise to ozone depletion. There are signs that ozone pollution in China is worsening. In the hot and humid Pearl River Delta, ozone is now the primary pollutant, rather than PM2.5. Greenpeace has calculated that average ozone levels nationwide in June were 11% higher than the previous year.
China is leaving no stone unturned in battling the crisis.
All the above steps taken by the government only proves that the Chinese government is as motivated about cleaning their country as they are about economic superiority. The government has also tried to win public trust and involvement by introducing technology that allows the citizens to check local air quality in real time and see whether a particular facility is breaching emission limits. But sometimes the results are more cosmetic than real when leaders order temporary close down of factories in winter months to stop breach of annual pollution limits or ahead of international summits and high-profile events. Nevertheless, no matter how hard one tries the damage has been done and a change will not come too soon. It will require years of efforts with intelligent planning to bring about a small change in the environment of the planet as a whole.