China Risks Environmental Collapse, State Official Warns

Associated Press
Sunday, March 12, 2006

BEIJING, March 11 -- China must sharply improve environmental protection or it could face disaster following two decades of breakneck growth that have poisoned its air, water and soil, the country's top environmental official warned Saturday.

The director of the State Environmental Protection Administration said that more than half of China's 21,000 chemical companies are near the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, which provide drinking water for tens of millions of people, and accidents could lead to "disastrous consequences."

"Facts have proved that prosperity at the expense of the environment is very superficial and very weak," Zhou Shengxian said at a news conference during the annual meeting of China's parliament. "It's only delaying disaster."

China's cities are among the world's smoggiest, and the government says its major rivers are badly polluted, leaving hundreds of millions of people without clean drinking water.

Protests have erupted throughout the country over farmers' complaints that uncontrolled factory discharges are ruining crops and poisoning water.

Environmental protection took on new urgency for Chinese leaders after a Nov. 13 chemical spill in a northeastern river forced a city to shut down its water supply and sent pollutants flowing into Russia.

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