The study, following an 18-month investigation conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) at China’s request, draws on work by the government, the Chinese academy of sciences and the World Bank to spell out the scale and severity of the ecological crisis now engulfing the country, poisoning its people and holding it back economically.
There is ”severe ecological damage such as deforestation, desertification and soil erosion,” the report says. It estimates that 2.64m sq km, or 27.5% of the country’s landmass is now becoming desertified. “Some 400 million people are affected by extensive soil salination and blowing sand. This is leading to villages becoming buried, the reduced life of irrigation works and widescale respiratory diseases.”
It says that as many as 300 million people are drinking contaminated water every day, and 190 million are suffering from water-related illnesses each year. If air pollution is not controlled, it says, there will be 600,000 premature deaths in urban areas and 20 million cases of respiratory illness a year within 15 years.
China’s water quality causes the researchers great concern. One third of the length of all China’s rivers are now “highly polluted” as are 75% of its major lakes and 25% of all its coastal waters. Nearly 30,000 children die from diarrhoea due to polluted water each year.
“A majority of the water flowing through China’s urban areas is unsuitable for drinking or fishing,” the report says.
China’s environmental standards are often closer to those in some of the poorest countries in the world, says the report. More than 17,000 towns have no sewage works at all and the human waste from nearly a billion people is barely collected or treated. Nearly 70% of the rural population have no access to safe sanitation.