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Survey of Rural Pollution to Start Next Year

The central government has allocated 230 million yuan (US$31.2 million) to conduct the country's first-ever survey of pollution sources in rural areas in a bid to create a cleaner countryside, a senior agriculture official said at a press conference Thursday.

Focusing on animal, crop and fish farming, the survey will provide a pollution blueprint that can be used as a point of reference for future decision making, Zhang Fengtong, head of the department of science, technology and education under the Ministry of Agriculture, said.

Zhang said preliminary work has already been completed and the survey will get under way next year.

Its findings will be published by the end of next year.

He said that as part the rural pollution control campaign, more than 1,000 "clean" villages are currently being developed, which have the capability to properly dispose of 90 percent of all household waste and sewage, and where the use of fertilizers and pesticides has been reduced by 15 percent to 30 percent.

The ministry is also helping to promote energy conservation and pollution control by building biogas digesters in rural areas and making more efficient use of pesticides and fertilizers, Zhang said.

Every year, China uses more than 360 kg of fertilizer per hectare of land, 3.3 times more than the United States and 1.6 times more than the average for EU countries.

But only 30 percent of it is used effectively, compared to 60 percent in developed countries, Zhang said.

"To develop ecologically modern agriculture, a fundamental change to the farming production model and way of life is essential," Zhang said.

The problem of pollution in both rural and urban areas has been a cause for wide concern in recent years, as the country has strived to balance the needs of the environment with rapid economic development.

A document jointly issued by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) and several other government departments last month said: "Some environmental problems have become the main factors endangering the health and property security of rural Chinese, thwarting sustainable economic and social development in the countryside."

The key pledge made in the document is to ensure the quality of all drinking water sources by 2010, as more than 300 million rural Chinese are currently affected by unsafe supplies.

Other pledges include increasing the use of soil testing to minimize the damage caused by fertilizers and pesticides, and boosting the volume of waste materials -- crop straw, domestic waste, livestock excrement and sewage -- treated by at least 10 percent.

The document also promised that by 2010, 65 percent of people in rural areas will have access to sanitary toilets, as part of a plan to control environmental pollution.

However, one expert said that the major obstacle to rural water management is that despite the fact that several ministries and the SEPA say they allocate funds to individual projects, no single body is directly responsible for the matter as a whole.

"There should be one ministry handling the issue," Lu Ming, deputy head of the countryside affairs committee of the National People's Congress, said.

"I recommend the Ministry of Water Resources lead the work and the SEPA play a supervisory role."

(China Daily December 14, 2007)

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