Around 60% of China’s underground water has inferior water quality and over 80% of petrochemical and chemical facilities are located within easy reach of rivers and water tables. Per unit GDP water use is still 2 to 3 times higher than the average level of the developed world. Aquatic ecosystems are severely depleted in many regions. Some of the effects are significant drops in groundwater levels, sedimentation, eutrophication and acidification. Even though China is not known at first as a country with water emergencies, the country represents a prime example for water scarcity.
The distribution of water in China has always been difficult. While home to 22% of the world population, the country only receives 7% of the world’s freshwater runoff. In the last 30 years, an extreme pollution and overuse of ground and surface water by agriculture, industrial and household sectors have significantly exacerbated the environmental situation.
At least 70 percent of lakes and rivers in China are polluted, with more than half of the water sources declared “unfit” for human contact. The Yangtze River, China’s largest and most important river, is inundated with approximately 25 billion tons of sewage and industrial refuge. Despite recent progress about improving the water quality of Chinese natural water sources, more than 350 million people in the country have no access to safe drinking water, and well over 60 % of Chinese cities are facing water shortages of some kind.
Despite a thorough policy and regulatory framework already in place, the ongoing water pollution issues indicate the challenge of implementation and enforcement. The Chinese government aims to overcome this issue by the means of the 2015 “Water Action and Pollution Prevention Plan” which seeks to effectively mitigate the persisting effects of pollution, preventing and controlling further damage and cleaning up existing pollution. The plan has five focus areas, namely:
- Protection of drinking water resources
- Tackling urban black & odorous water bodies
- Conservation and Restoration of the Yangtze river
- Pollution Control in the area of the Bohai sea
- Pollution control in agriculture and rural areas
Measures to cut industrial waste water discharge, to improve sewage management in cities and to ensure better treatment of polluted water in rural areas are currently under review. Above all else, the action plan will call for a better intergovernmental coordination between the main governmental bodies in charge of water-related issues. Following the recent government reshuffle responsibilities and functions related to water pollution control will be further consolidated into the sole jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environmental and Ecology (MEE).
Sino-German Environmental Partnership
The Sino-German Environmental Partnership Project (EPP) did not implement any bilateral project activities on water pollution during Phase I, as MEE and its affiliated agencies did not approach GIZ for support on the theme. However, during Phase II, the project organized a Sino-German Symposium on Water Management in collaboration with the Appraisal Center for Environment & Engineering (ACEE) on 13.-14.12.2017. The symposium attracted over 70 participants from government agencies, research institutions, universities and companies from Germany, France and China. Main topical areas of the symposium were water policy and regulatory frameworks, non-point and point source pollution management of toxic and hazardous substances in water bodies and control in both China and Europe.