CGTN Listens: Ecological recovery and environmental protection of the Yangtze River
By Xia Ruixue
The Yangtze River environmental protection is one of the topics on the agenda of political advisers who are currently gathered in Beijing as part of the annual Two Sessions.
I've spoken to a few people in Wuhan, capital city of central China's Hubei Province about ecological recovery and environmental protection of the Yangtze River.
Wuhan is a city located along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River. The river is the third longest globally and the busiest inland river in the world. We call it a golden waterway. But how to balance its economic development and environmental protection remains a big question.
Huang Huan is an English teacher at Wuhan Number 49 High School. She's been living in the city for more than 30 years, and remembers that there were more lakes when she was a kid.
With time, a good number of lakes have been filled in to create more space for urban construction, which inevitably caused serious damages to the drainage system. Every time it rains heavily, the city floods.
Huang believes the development of the city came at the cost of good environment.
"The Yangtze River system is now facing two crises," says Wang Hongzhu, a researcher at the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
"The first one is water shortage due to pollution. Many lakes and reservoirs, as well as some river segments, have been seriously polluted. So, for some cities and villages, there are no sources for clean drinking water."
The second calamity is biodiversity loss.
"Chinese paddlefish and river dolphins are almost extinct. About 30 percent of fish species in the Yangtze River basin are endangered, and the populations of Chinese sturgeon and finless porpoise are shrinking," Wang notes.
More than 400 million people get their drinking water from the Yangtze River. Water cleanliness is really important.
Liu Xuan is a volunteer with outreach group, "Wuhan Volunteers Association of Lake Savers." She feels that not many people are aware of how dire the situation is, and this lack of knowledge is the major difficulty she and other volunteers face during their work on the field.
Ecology recovery is not easy. The local government launched a campaign to crack down on pollution offenders along the Yangtze River.
Zhong Zhengrong, from the Wuhan Municipal Development and Reform Commission, says that since 2016, a total of 227 illegal docks along the 145-kilometer bank have been demolished. Illegal sand excavation activities were also terminated.
Their focus then turned on curbing the dumping of wastewater along the river. To achieve their goal, they're using the latest technology to monitor all sewage outlets and help trace sources of pollution.
So far, Wuhan has appointed 2,699 river and lake chiefs, who have played a significant role in improving the quality of the city's water.
That's a huge workload, requiring coordination efforts across state ministries, provinces and departments along the Yangtze River. Administrative barriers need to be broken down to work with various parties directly on restoration work.
Zhong said a joint administrative office was established in Wuhan, which developed a clear roadmap and timetable for the environmental protection of the Yangtze River.
The official added that Wuhan used to be a heavy manufacturing base, which in turn, brought about a great deal of pollution.
"In the past decade, we have made efforts to promote supply-side structural reform. We keep upgrading and transforming (Wuhan's) industries. Today, its optical fiber, automotive, and commercial space industries are thriving. Its GDP has increased. At the same time, the environment is now better. So, I think economic structuring and progress will determine whether or not we are seeing a better environment," Zhong noted.
Huang said she feels that the environment has improved in recent years. But Wang warns that huge challenges stand in the way of future ecological restoration and protection efforts.
The expert specified three challenges.
First, how to manage the Yangtze ecosystem on the whole basin scale. Second, how to restore the ecological integrity of the Yangtze system. Third, how to develop in a greener way.
"This is very important, because our ecological problems actually comes from our extensive economy growth," Wang stated.
The Yangtze River Economic Belt spans 11 of China's provinces and municipalities and is home to over 40 percent of China's population. Since 2014, President Xi Jinping has emphasized green development for boosting economic growth within the belt.
As experts have noted, significant progress has been made in ecological restoration and protection. But we still have a long way to go.