The administration of Xi Jinping is moving to place management of the country's largest river under strict governmental supervision. The move, announced March 17 by state-run media outlet Economic Information Daily (EID), stresses environmental protection and restoration over economic development.
The enormous responsibility of checking construction, restrict illegal dumping and overseeing industry located along the Yantze River has fallen under the auspices of the the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) — a powerful arm of the Chinese government tasked with economic planning. Accompanying the announcement of NDRC control over the river, the agency released a draft report concerning the "Yangtze River Economic Belt", which broadly sets out goals for management of the waterway. An unnamed official quoted by EID said the need for sweeping changes was urgent:
A red line must be drawn on the development of Yangtze River Basin water resources. Because pollution of the basin has been very serious, if development goes unplanned, [the damage] will be exceptionally difficult to repair.
An estimated 400 million people live along the Yangtze and depend on it for all of their water needs. However, on many stretches of the river, water has become so polluted it sometimes kills fish living in it. The NDRC draft report makes the somewhat astonishing claim that 34.7 billion tons of untreated waste was dumped into the river in 2012. If accurate, this number would be the equivalent to 138 times the amount of garbage produced by United States' households each year. The NDRC included raw sewage, agricultural run-off and industrial waste when making its Yangtze dumping calculations.
In its report, the NDRC made several recommendations that, if enacted, would vastly alter the way people and businesses interact with the environment along the world's third longest waterway. The proposed guidelines include significantly reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizers in agricultural production, relocating heavy industry away from the river basin, establishing new nature reserves and promoting wetland expansion.
Provincial officials appeared to be encouraged by the NDRC paper. Following the report's release, Nanjing Secretary of Crime Prevention, Lin Zhimei (林志梅), proposed the immediate conference of municipal and provincial officials overseeing the river basin. He went on to say an ongoing series of meetings should be set up where bureaucrats would discuss environmental protection, improve information exchanges and consultations and create mechanisms for dealing with major environmental emergencies.
All recommendations made by the NDRC regarding management of the Yangtze River are currently non-binding. The Commission is now accepting remarks and recommendations from the governments of the 11 provinces and municipalities through which the river flows. A final draft resolution is expected to be issued by the end of the year.
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