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UPDATED: June 6, 2012
China Gropes for Ways to Tackle Water Pollution

With a landmark civil case set to test compensation procedures for Chinese communities that have been affected by water pollution, work continues across China to balance the country's booming industrial growth with environmental concerns and the rights of its citizens.

The Intermediate People's Court of the city of Qujing in southwest China's Yunnan Province said Tuesday that a case involving two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) demanding compensation from a chemical company will be heard soon, although the court date is not yet known.

The two NGOs have demanded compensation worth 10 million yuan ($1.58 million) from the chemical company, which was found to have dumped 5,000 tons of chromium-contaminated waste near a reservoir from April to June 2011, resulting in the deaths of 77 livestock in Qujing.

The civil case, which was filed last September and accepted by the court in October 2011, will mark the country's first public interest litigation (PIL) filed by grassroots NGOs, according to experts.

If the NGOs win the case, the compensation will be used to rehabilitate polluted areas in Qujing.

It is possible that similar cases will start popping up around the country, as an amendment to China's Civil Procedure Law will open legal options up to more people.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, read a draft amendment to the Civil Procedure Law for the first and second time last October and this April.

According to the draft, "legally registered organizations and social groups" are entitled to file lawsuits in instances in which polluting the environment or other behavior infringes on the public interest.

Water pollution cases are frequently reported across the country, especially in the industrial eastern and coastal regions.

A statement published by the Anhui Environmental Protection Bureau on May 31 said that 14 of the Huaihe River's 19 tributaries have suffered from heavy pollution.

The residents of the town of Wujiang, located in Hexian County in east China's Anhui Province, have also dealt with the effects of water pollution. Anhui Huangxing Chemical Industry Co.,Ltd., a local chemical company, has been accused of polluting the town's water.

"Grain and rice crops died after being polluted by industrial waste from the company's plants," said Li Guangming, a villager living near one of the plants.

Villagers have sealed their wells and closed windows due to a pungent odor penetrating the town's air. Although the villagers have aired their complaints to the country's environmental protection bureau, an effective response has yet to be issued.

Xing Guanghua, director of the bureau, claimed the bureau has "rarely" received complaints about water pollution, adding that monitoring results indicate that the company is operating in accordance with local sewage disposal regulations.

The company is the only listed company in Wujiang and has created jobs for about 2,000 local residents. It is this kind of situation that often creates environmental problems, as local governments are quick to protect companies that create profits and jobs, even at the expense of the environment.

However, some local governments have made efforts to compromise, finding ways to bolster their local economies without damaging regional ecology.

For example, 30 local officials in east China's city of Haining in April were given the responsibility of protecting the city's rivers. Although the city's rich water resources have brought prosperity to the city, the development of modern industry has made water pollution a serious problem.

The city's water quality plunged below acceptable levels in 2009 and 2010. The municipal government subsequently chose Yanguan Township in April 2011 as a "trial area" to test the effectiveness of using local officials to maintain water quality on one of the town's rivers.

Each official was in charge of examining water quality on a given section of the river each week. The river's water quality improved during the trial, leading the Haining Municipal Government to implement the strategy on other rivers in the city.

"It is more effective for our municipal officials to join in the protection of water resources. They can integrate different departments to work together on the problem," said Xu Linsheng, a fisherman from Haining.

(Xinhua News Agency June 5, 2012)

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