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China to appoint "river chiefs" to battle pollution

Xinhua, December 13, 2016 Adjust font size:

China will appoint "river chiefs" to protect the nation's waters in its latest attempt to control pollution.

A detailed plan on a system for appointing officials to oversee river pollution management will be jointly published by the Ministry of Water Resources and Ministry of Environmental Protection on Tuesday, Zhou Xuewen, deputy minister of Water Resources, said at a press conference held by the State Council Information Office on Monday.

"Rivers and lakes play an important role in preserving water resources, improving the environment and serving economic development," said Zhou. "However, new problems have mushroomed along with fast economic and social development, including excessive discharging of pollutants into rivers and lakes."

In its latest attempt to improve pollution, China will appoint local government heads as "river chiefs" nationwide to protect its water resources, according to guidelines published by central authorities on Sunday.

Responsibilities of river chiefs will include water resource protection, pollution prevention and control, and ecological restoration, according to a document forwarded by the general offices of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council.

Their job performance will be assessed and they will be held accountable if environmental damage occurs in bodies of water under their supervision, said the document.

Information, including the names and responsibilities of the river chiefs, will be made public to ensure public supervision, it said.

Government officials will be hired as river chiefs at the provincial, city, county and township levels, and heads of provincial regions will serve as general chiefs responsible for all rivers and lakes in the region, according to the document.

For large rivers and lakes that span across regions, river chiefs will be responsible for different parts of a body of water and will cooperate in management.

The central government expects to expand the practice nationwide by the end of 2018.

China first appointed local government officials as river chiefs in 2007 to address pollution from a blue algae outbreak in Taihu Lake in Jiangsu Province.

The practice was later adopted in several regions rich in water resources to ensure strong enforcement of environmental policies and enhance coordination.

China's environmental protection still lags behind its economic status, and decades of fast growth have left the country saddled with problems such as smog and contaminated waterways and soil.

Administrative methods have proven quite effective, but are far from enough, said Li Zuojun, deputy director of the resources and environment policy institute of the Development Research Center of the State Council.

Legal support, market-oriented measures, public awareness and company ethics must also be stepped up, Li said.

On Monday, the Ministry of Finance criticized some local governments' behaviors in misappropriating funds earmarked for smog control.

The State Council earmarked a total of 25.4 billion yuan (3.7 billion U.S. dollars) in air pollution prevention funds during the 2013-2015 period.

The Chinese government released a national plan on environmental improvements for the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020) earlier this month, which set detailed tasks to clean up polluted air, water and soil to improve the ecosystem.