BEIJING, April 17 (Xinhua) -- A detailed action plan to fight water pollution in China bodes well for a nation troubled by dirty waterways.
Announced on Thursday by the State Council, China's cabinet, the plan is aimed at improving drinking water and promoting water conservation.
Doom mongers may point to the fact that more exacting requirements on polluting companies will probably force some of them to close. In the long term though, the plan is expected to fuel economic growth, not slow it.
A BLESSING AMID PAIN
Alarm bells are sounding for small, outdated factories in sectors including paper, insecticides and tanning, which have been ordered to shut down by the end of 2016.
However, calls for bigger facilities in these sectors to update their technology to meet emission requirements and a target for clearer water in major river valleys by 2020 present unprecedented business opportunities for companies related to environmental protection.
Li Jie, a researcher in environmental science and engineering with Shanghai's Tongji University, said the action plan will hurt polluting enterprises in the short term, but they must face up to an irreversible trend toward closer environmental scrutiny of their operations.
Many small plants operate without any pollution controls or treatment. It is these operations that will be hit hardest.
Meanwhile, Li said, the action plan will bring business opportunities to the green industry, as enterprises are pushed to take more responsibility for their emissions, driving demand for equipment designed to limit pollution.
According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), implementation of the new measures will increase GDP by 5.7 trillion yuan (about 910 billion U.S. dollars) and create 3.9 million urban jobs.
Sewage treatment businesses will be the first to benefit, said Li, referring to the plan's target to see dark and odorous water in urban areas eliminated by 2030.
Xia Guang, director of the MEP's Policy Research Center for Environment and Economy, said the action plan will create new customers for both domestic green enterprises and foreign ones.
Foreign firms have already taken a sizable share of the pollution treatment market.
AN ARDUOUS TASK
Analysts have said that pollution controls are badly needed. After more than three decades of rapid economic growth, China's water pollution has become too serious to ignore.
Some 60 percent of ground water checked by 4,778 monitoring stations was rated as "bad" or "very bad," according to an MEP report released in June 2014.
It said 17 of 31 major freshwater lakes are moderately or slightly polluted, including China's two biggest lakes, Poyang and Dongting, both of which also have shrunk significantly compared with their peak.
The report also said that more than 300 of 657 cities sampled face water shortage problems.
In the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, water per capita is even less than Israel, whose 300-cubic-meter standard is rated "extremely scarce."
As cities have expanded rapidly, even tap water has fallen victim to big polluters and mishandling of industrial chemicals. In recent years, panic buying of bottled water has occurred frequently in cities, where a rising middle class is increasingly concerned about water quality.
In 2013, Shanghai's drinking water came under threat after pig carcasses were found in the Huangpu River.
The Ministry of Supervision estimates that the number of people affected by substandard drinking water may be as high as 140 million.
The new action plan is part of China's efforts to wage war on all types of pollution. It follows a plan released in 2013 to tackle smog.
That plan seems to be working. The average reading of PM 2.5, airborne particles with a diameter small enough to penetrate the lungs, has declined more than 10 percent in Hebei and Tianjin while Beijing has had a 4-percent drop, according to figures from local governments.
HARSHER MEASURES WITH DEADLINES
Xia said one the strengths of the new action plan is that it defines the responsibilities of local governments.
Pollution checks will be conducted every year and the results will be part of performance reviews for provincial officials. Distribution of funds for the campaign will also depend on the results.
Meanwhile, the plan also targets businesses with concrete measures. From 2016, a blacklist will name businesses that exceed their pollutant quotas, with severe violators risking closure.
Li said concerns about their public image will pressure enterprises to make genuine efforts to reduce pollutants.
The action plan's other main strength is that it announces deadlines, according to analysts. The plan stipulates that more than 70 percent of water in the seven major river valleys, including the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, should be in good condition by 2020. It set the same target for offshore areas.
By the end of 2030, more than 75 percent of water in the seven major river valleys should be clear, with dark and odorous water in urban areas eliminated.
Li warned that national standards on water cleanliness have long existed without proper enforcement. With harsher rules in place, implementation is the key.