Wednesday, January 6, 2010

China's pursuit of clean water

Jean Francois Tremblay in Chemical & Engineering News: ….The quality of drinking water in large swaths of rural China has steadily deteriorated with the country’s rapid industrialization. As the number of villages with unsafe water reaches alarming proportions, new initiatives are getting under way to reverse the damage. Over the past two years, two nongovernmental organizations have launched campaigns to improve the quality of water that Chinese rural residents drink. Using different strategies, the two groups offer complementary approaches to solving the problem of polluted drinking water in many parts of China.

In the province of Henan, in central China, the Huai River Protectors are equipping villages with low-cost filtration systems designed to remove harmful industrial contaminants from their water. And in the southern province of Guangdong, the international group Greenpeace has embarked on an ambitious campaign to convince the Chinese government to keep track of hazardous wastes and to more systematically prevent manufacturers from dumping them into rivers and lakes.

“China knows it has a big problem with its water,” says Jamie Choi, the Hong Kong-based manager of Greenpeace’s campaign against toxic chemicals in China. “It needs help.” About a quarter of China’s population does not have access to safe drinking water, she says, citing Chinese government statistics.

China is the world’s most attractive market for companies in the water treatment business (C&EN, May 11, 2009, page 18). Chinese industry needs large amounts of clean water to feed its power plants, electronics manufacturers, and beverage industries. And major Chinese cities, particularly in the country’s northern region, are increasingly using desalination and recycling to make up for the water shortages they face.

But people in farming communities throughout China are often neglected when it comes to clean water. Villagers have traditionally relied on rivers or shallow wells for drinking water, but pollution is often so bad that both the rivers and the wells dug in their vicinity are unsafe. China’s government is gradually installing pipes to distribute treated water, but the pace is slow given the vastness of the country….

Chinese foot pumping of water near Shanghai, from a postcard around 1900

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