Water, Water Everywhere
IATP President Jim Harkness is blogging from China through June 14. (Due to internet access problems, Jim sent this blog via e-mail. I am posting it for him - Ben)
My last job before joining IATP was at WWF China, (no, not the wrestling federation!) so while I was in Shanghai for the organic conference I gave WWF’s Shanghai office a call. After the obligatory evening of gossip and reminiscence, they offered to take me to the field with them for a day. The Shanghai office of WWF is very focused on water issues. I was interested to learn that they are looking at land use in the areas surrounding Shanghai’s drinking water source in the upper reaches of the Huangpu River. It had not occurred to me that the water source might be nearby, but they assured me that there are intake stations within an hour drive of the city center.
Sure enough, I found myself in front of the map shown below, which shows the borders and main features of the Upper Huangpu River Drinking Water Source Protected Area. This is where 80 percent of the water for Shanghai’s 20 million inhabitants comes from.
The sign is on the edge of the Protected Area, next to a bridge over a stream that flows into the Huangpu. The view downstream shows floating garbage and green scum that indicates high levels of organic pollutants.
Turning around after taking the last picture, I was entranced by this large, cheerful image of a green and prosperous Shanghai. The slogan is “Together Building a Civilized Home, Together Creating a Beautiful Future.” Note the clear water gushing from the fountain!
Behind the billboard, though, the scene was somewhat different.
I wanted some more pictures of the dump, but the potent blend of chemical and biological odors made it impossible to stand nearby for more than a minute.
Yesterday, China’s Environment Ministry released their estimates of pollution discharges nationwide. Some indicators actually declined for the first time, but the overall picture continues to worsen. Some digging into the Chinese reports shows that rural pollution in particular shows no sign of lessening, as more pesticides and chemical fertilizers run off of fields and massive volumes of animal waste are discharged from factory farms directly into waterways.
Which brings us back to the challenge China faces in feeding its people. In their attempt to keep farm production ahead of population growth, China’s leaders borrowed the chemical-intensive agricultural approach of American industrial agriculture, instead of seeking to upgrade an indigenous farming system that had persisted for thousands of years. If they had known then the impact this approach would have on their land, water and farmers, I wonder whether they would have still made the same choice.
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