Pollution clouds China

CHINA’S two decades of unbridled economic boom is spelling doom for environment. The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) has sounded alarm bells about rising pollution levels in the country in a report warning environmental protection and economic development are not proceeding in unison. This and another report that acid rain has hit one third of the country point to the gravity of the problem China is facing now.

Three factors are responsible for the deteriorating environment: Galloping industrialisation, rising energy consumption, and rapid urbanisation. These three are inter-linked and if they are not properly managed they further pollute the air, water and land. Chinese economy has been growing at an average rate of over nine per cent and to sustain such high growth rate, it needs to burn enormous amounts of fossil fuels for energy.

Thousands of factories emit carbon gases and release chemical residues into the atmosphere and rivers. The new prosperity is breeding an urban rich whose love for automobiles is in the top gear. All these have made China the second largest energy-consuming country in the world after the US. Prosperity has come at a cost. The environmental damage is threatening to dampen China’s spectacular progress and the government is focusing its attention on remedial measures. It has set apart $162 billion to clean up the mess over five years, though one doubts whether that money is enough to bring at least air and drinking water to normal clean levels.

China has to devise a two-pronged strategy if it wants to win its war on pollution. One is political and another is economic. Beijing’s major problems in tackling environmental issues are official corruption and balancing development with effective pollution controls. The task is not easy as many industries are located in rural areas where land and water contamination is of least concern to local party bosses.

Unless the government acts quickly, and decisively, the progress of China that has baled millions of people out of poverty in such a short time will be lost in smog and acid rain.

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