TIME magazine reporter Bryan Walsh interviewed Dr. Ping He last Thursday on issues concerning China’s environmental problems. Here are main points discussed:
Q: What is the most compelling env. problem presently in China?
A: Water problems. Based on data from the Ministry of Water Resources, ninety percent of surface water in urban has been polluted. More than 300 million people in rural areas are drinking un-sanitary water. Water pollution incidents occurred every month in last couple of years. Diseases caused by polluted water increased significantly. These are cumulative effects. Some lakes and rivers are saturated with pollutants.
Q: What should Chinese gov. do to control pollution?
A: They need to enhance the capacity of local EPAs. SEPA is setting a number of regional centers to get better control. But that is not enough. Presently, local EPAs lack of authority to stop polluted factories/projects. They need to directly report to upper level EPAs, instead of reporting to local gov. heads, because those polluted factories are revenue makers for local gov. This is so called ‘vertical management’. At least, all local (city and county) EPAs should be managed by provincial EPA directly.
Another point should be made is to enhance the technical capacity at local level. They need more man-power and more advanced equipment to do their jobs.
Q: Are citizens willing to pay more for better air and water quality?
A: Yes, esp. in coastal cities. A growing middle class in these cities is seeking for better life quality. But they also look for better and more effective gov. management. Sometimes, the gov. agencies increased fees, but little changed.
Q. There are some social unrests recently caused by pollution. What do you think?
That is true. There are increasing number of group unrest incidents occurred due to pollution. The pollution victims don’t have ways to stop the pollution. They had to stand up to protect their own rights. These are results of gov. inaction and corruptions. These are also tied with problems in legal systems. The legal systems are not independent. They can’t effectively protect the victims’ rights.
Q. What is the perspective of the env. problems in China? In 5-10 yrs, do you think the situation will be better or worse?
I hope it is better. Right now it is bad enough. I can’t image if it gets worse in next five yrs. All the progress and living improvements will be cancelled by the pollution. That is not worth. But the gov. has to take much tougher actions to reverse the trends.
(The article will be appeared on the TIME (US Edition) during the Christmas period.)