| BEIJING, June 3
BEIJING, June 3 More than half of China's cities
are affected by acid rain and one-sixth of major rivers are so
polluted the water is unfit even for farmland, a senior official
said on Friday in a bleak assessment of the environmental price
of the country's economic boom.
The environmental degradation which has accompanied China's
breakneck growth has emerged as one of the most potent fault
lines in Chinese society, driving protests against Beijing's
perceived inability to effectively tackle the problem.
China has repeatedly promised to clean up its stressed
environment. But it often fails to match that with the resources
and political will to enforce Beijing's mandates, as local
officials put growth, revenue and jobs ahead of environmental
"The overall environmental situation is still very grave and
is facing many difficulties and challenges," deputy environment
minister Li Ganjie told a news conference.
The waters off the booming cities of Shanghai, Tianjin and
Guangzhou were rated as severely polluted, with only stretches
around the resort island of Hainan and parts of the northern
coast given a totally clean bill of health, Li said.
Pollution monitors found that 16.4 percent of China's major
rivers were classified as worse than grade five, he added,
meaning that they do not even meet the standard needed for
Just 3.6 percent of the 471 cities monitored got
top ratings for air cleanliness, and there was a continued loss
of biodiversity around the country, Li added.
Heavy metal pollution was a particular worry, he said, not
only on the health front but also for stability in society.
"These heavy metal pollution incidents not only seriously
threaten people's health, they affect social stability, and it
ought to be said this is a rather severe issue," Li said.
The world's top consumer and producer of lead, China has
struggled to rein in polluting industry under lax environmental
regulations. Lead-poisoning, especially in children, has roused
public anger and resulted in sometimes violent protests.
Unhappiness over the environment in China encompasses a
broad range of other areas though.
Last month, the vast northern region of Inner Mongolia was
hit by sporadic demonstrations by ethnic Mongolians infuriated
by the damage caused to traditional grazing lands, unrest set
off by the death of a herder under the wheels of a coal truck.
The government has since begun a month-long crackdown on the
coal industry and vowed to "leave no stone unturned" in their
probe into mines which damage the environment or seriously
affect residents. [ID:nL3E7H11QT]
"As for that incident, I know that relevant departments are
currently proactively and appropriately dealing with it. The
situation has basically calmed down," Li said, when asked about
"The Environment Ministry will be paying close attention,
and will give help, support, supervision and guidance" to the
probe into the environmental problems of coal mines in Inner
Mongolia, he added.
But in a comment underscoring the challenge China faces to
balance protection of the environment with the need for economic
growth, Li said it was important not to demonize the resource
"In places like Inner Mongolia, with their rich natural and
mineral resources, their exploitation over the past few years
has certainly had a great effect on local economic development
and the improvement of people's livelihoods."
(Editing by Sugita Katyal)