China's environmental protection chief has warned local governments that pollution in the name of economic growth is no longer tolerable.
"At the primary stage of socialism, slowing or halting economic development for environmental protection is not acceptable. But pollution is not acceptable too," Environmental Protection Minister Zhou Shengxian was quoted by Thursday's People's Daily as saying.
In Yunnan Province to discuss the arsenic pollution of Yangzonghai Lake, Zhou asked officials: "What's the point of development if we developed economy and improved people's living standard, but people had to suffer from environmental pollution and degradation?
"If people have to drink polluted water while driving BMWs, that's a bitter irony of modernization," he said. "We definitely don't want such development."
Describing the contamination as an "evil consequence of sacrificing the environment for temporary local interest", Zhou told officials to learn from the incident, according to the paper.
"China has made significant achievements since it started economic reform 30 years ago," Zhou said. "But no one can deny that we have paid a big environmental and resource price for the fast development."
Yangzonghai Lake, famous for its springs, was found to contain arsenic in June in the Yuxi City section. A local company named Jinye Industry and Trade Co. Ltd. was blamed for the pollution.
Zhou said the company, since it was opened three and half years ago, had paid 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million) in taxes, but "its pollution cost billions and affected the lives of 26,000 people".
Three company executives were arrested and 12 government officials fired in connection with the contamination. The city has invited bidders globally to clean up the pollution. The lake water is expected to be safe within three years.
Compared with the pollution in Yangzonghai, a small lake, the condition of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers and other big lakes was more worrisome, Zhou said.
"They were surrounded by many chemical factories and smelters," he added.
Zhou said the core principle of the Scientific Concept of Development, promoted by the government, was "people first". "Its basic requirement is to cherish life."
A monitoring report in September showed that surface water in China generally suffered from medium pollution. About 26.7 percent of 759 samples of surface water were graded "V", the worst level of pollution.
(Xinhua News Agency November 27, 2008)