The region around Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province is the target of a high-profile "green" development project. An article in the government media promoting the project urged readers to strengthen environmental protection and reveals the massive environmental problems in rural China.
The article begins by referring to a number of major environmental disasters, including the recent oil spill in Dalian, a chemical spill in the Songhua River in Jilin, and a massive fish kill in Fujian resulting from a leak from a copper smelter. Plus the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Then the article says, we should pay attention to our own pollution problems.
The author recalls his idyllic childhood in the countryside of "clean mountains, beautiful water and good air," when happy peasants could wash their clothes and dishes in nearby streams and ponds or take a quick swim after a hard day in the fields.
However, the author says much of the countryside today is better described as "bald mountains, muddy water, foul air." He warns that environmental degradation threatens the Poyang Lake District project.
The author points out that there isn't much industry around the lake, so the pollution comes from rural people and farms. He describes the general situation in the countryside as “sewage randomly splashed, dumping garbage, heaps of dung, stampede for firewood, animals and poultry running around at random.” One of the big problems is that there is no designated place to dispose of rubbish. There are many new houses in the countryside which are beautiful on the inside while the area outside is strewn with trash.
Agriculture is the other big source of pollution. In growing crops, excessive use of fertilizer and pesticides results in runoff and chemical residues. Livestock and poultry production in inappropriate places produce manure and wastewater that pollutes water, soil, and air. Farmers raising fish and shellfish in ponds and reservoirs feed them with animal and human waste and chemical fertilizer. The author says the water stinks after three years.
The author recommends that environmental protection should be included in the evaluations of rural officials. Rural peoples' environmental awareness should be raised. Villages should have fixed trash disposal points and regular pickups for burning, burial, or treatment. The mode of agricultural production should be changed to reduce chemical use and to treat and recycle animal waste.
The website about the project shows photos of pristine wilderness and a large quote from Premier Wen Jiabao urging protection of the Poyang Lake and keeping it as a lake of clean water forever. A quick search for news on the Poyang project shows why the author may be concerned. The main news item has a list of targets for per capita income, income growth rates, and life expectancy for 2015 for each city in the Poyang Lake district. There are 10 industries targeted for development, including aircraft, "new-style cars" and repair, "new energy," and electricity generation.
Poyang Lake will not be Walden Pond. China does not have a Henry David Thoreau (at least not an influential one). It's a country run by engineers who can't resist building and planning everything.