China's 'Mother River' Irreversibly Damaged

Daniel Schearf

A report on China's Yangtze River, the longest in China, says human activity has caused irreversible damage and severe pollution to the river and its tributaries, threatening water supplies to millions. The report says the water quality is getting worse and more needs to done to protect China's "mother river." Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

The report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission and the World Wildlife Fund says billions of tons of wastewater and sewage from factories and homes are dumped into the river every year.

The pollution and damming on the river to generate electricity have killed off aquatic life, prevented fish migration, and driven a rare species of freshwater dolphin to the brink of extinction.

The official Xinhua news agency says the damage on the Yangtze water ecology is now "largely irreversible."

Li Lifeng is the head of the China freshwater program at the World Wildlife Fund and an editor of the report. He says 20 billion tons of wastewater is dumped into the Yangtze annually and that the country must stop over-exploiting the river for economic gain.

"We need to balance the conservation and development and ensure we will not repeat the industrialization path that's happening in the western countries, which is first pollute it, then clean up," said Li.

Li commends Hunan province for shutting down more than 100 small but highly polluting paper mills along the river earlier this year. But he says much tighter pollution control is needed to make any real difference.

The report says more than 600 kilometers of the Yangtze, about 10 percent, are in "critical condition" and 30 percent of its major tributaries are seriously polluted.

As a result, the freshwater white-flag dolphin, which once swam in the Yangtze, may be close to extinction, as scientists have not been able to find any trace of them. And the annual harvest of fish and other river products has plunged to about 100,000 tons now, from 427,000 tons in the 1950s.

Xinhua news agency said Wednesday more than 100,000 farm-raised Chinese sturgeon would be released into the Yangtze on Sunday to try to make up for the loss.

The Yangtze, called Changjiang, or "Long River" in Chinese, accounts for 35 percent of the country's fresh water supply and runs from China's western Tibetan Plateau to the East China Sea, passing through several major cities along the way.

The river's problems are symptomatic of China's water woes. The government has acknowledged that most waterways are severely polluted and overused, and many communities suffer water shortages.

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