Water Pollution Crisis in China

Edited by Huiyu Yin

I. “Dead Pigs” Incident

In the early March, thousands of dead pigs were found in Huangpu River in Shanghai. By March 19th, the total number had reached 10,164. Xinhua, a Chinese state press, reported later that these pigs came from an upstream city called Jiaxing, which is a large pig-breeding center. Huangpu River is a source of drinking water for Shanghai citizens. Even though the Press Office of the Shanghai government ensured citizens that their water supply still met the national quality standard, this incident triggered a wide discussion of water pollution in China.

For more reading:
Chinese source: http://www.infzm.com/content/88958
English source: http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/11/world/asia/china-pigs-river & http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/25/shanghai-dead-pig-story-upstream

II. “Milky River”

Shortly after that in April, a report released information about another water pollution case in Yunnan, a southwest province in China. The polluted river flowing through part of Kunming, the capital city of the province, flows into Jinsha River. It has been heavily contaminated by a few electricity power plants and mining plants. The water is smelly and milky, and the river is known as “the milky river”. Local people gave up using it as a source for drinking water a long time ago, but they still use it as an irrigation source. Worries are expressed about food grown out of the crops irrigated by the polluted water.

For more reading:
Chinese source: http://www.chinanews.com/sh/2013/04-03/4699769.shtml

III. Who is responsible for watching our water?

Groundwater pollution is also no secret in China. An article in China Development Brief (English) shed some light on this issue, the ineffectuality of the government agencies for monitoring pollution, and a possible role of NGOs and the public.

For more reading:
English source: http://www.chinadevelopmentbrief.cn/?p=1931

IV. An individual human right to water under international law?

Unsafe and unsanitized water can impose great risks to human health, and can be a major source of diseases. Recognizing the importance of water to human beings, the international law community began discussions on a separate human right to water. The first attempt was made by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a body under the United Nationals Economic and Social Council and responsible for implementing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC). In November 2002, it adopted a non-binding General Comment No. 15 to Article 11 & 12 of the ICESC on the right to water (see http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/0/a5458d1d1bbd713fc1256cc400389e94/$FILE/G0340229.pdf). On 28 July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 64/292 on the human right to water and sanitation (see http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/64/292). Despite these two efforts, the right to water still remains uncodified and undefined even today. Ongoing debates are about whether a separate right is needed, what is the content of the right and what are the responsibilities borne by countries.

For more information about diseases attributable to unsafe water and poor sanitation in China, please refer a WHO article at http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/90/8/11-098343/en/.

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