Water quality map exerts public pressure on polluters
Civil Society | Environment
Organisations and individuals concerned about water pollution now have a powerful online tool to learn about the water quality of rivers and lakes in their vicinity and to know the sources of pollutants.
The China Water Pollution Map (中国水污染地图) was launched in September by the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (公众与环境研究中心, IPE). It provides information on the water quality of major lakes and rivers and identifies 2,700 companies around China that are discharging effluents into surface water.
According to IPE Director Ma Jun (马军), a journalist turned environmental advocate, the website aims to raise public awareness of China’s water quality and facilitate public participation in encouraging enterprises to improve their discharge standards and corporate social responsibility performance.
In 2004, China enacted an Environmental Impact Assessment Law that recognises the public’s right to participate in evaluation of environmental impacts. Since then the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) has disclosed more information. “We have seen great improvement in data quality and availability since 2004, which is the foundation of our work,” says Ma.
Various government agencies now monitor and report on water quality around the country. However, the scattered data sources make it hard for the public to obtain a comprehensive, water pollution overview. The Water Pollution Map re-organises the data and displays it in a user-friendly way, giving a clearer picture of the water environment in each province. “We do it (organising and presenting the data) from a public perspective and analyse the problems neglected by the government,” says Ma.
He and his colleagues collect information from published sources, including government and media reports. “We want to see how much information an ordinary person can access,” he explains.
The website also publishes reports on polluters that are not on the government’s list, but groups these in a separate column, so that the main map is clearly derived from official sources.
In its first week, the site received more than 100 messages from visitors, including general comments and reports on pollution cases. “It was better than expected,” Ma says. “I thought most of our visitors would be in environmental business but from the messages I find that there are many ordinary people around the country who simply care about their local water resources.”
Enquiries have also come from polluters. A company called and asked for more details about their pollution and where to find such information. “This is a vivid example of how little attention some enterprises pay to environmental issues,” says Ma. “It also shows the miscommunication within the company or between the government and the company in this regard.”
“Only when strict enforcement and public participation are in place, will enterprises behave better,” he adds.
Ma and his team are now revising their map, making it clearer and more accurate. They plan to produce a water pollution report based on the collected data.
IPE is also teaming up with other NGOs across China to locate and monitor specific polluters. IPE plans to train local NGOs to monitor and analyse water quality near suspected polluters, thus providing first-hand information. More than a dozen local NGOs have agreed to cooperate in this way.
Water pollution has become a serious problem in China. According to a Xinhua News Agency report, China discharged 52.4 billion tons of wastewater in 2005, up 26 percent form 2000. Only 52 percent of the wastewater was treated before being discharged.
Ma hopes that IPE will not confine itself to water pollution. Once the pollution map model proves successful, he says, they will create similar databases for other emissions and environmental issues.
Report by Chang Tianle, November 06 2006