Sunday, 13 April 2014

Water Scare

Anxious Lanzhou residents raid supermarkets for bottled water
While Chinese President Xi Jinping is on his hunt for "tigers" and "flies", the contamination of drinking water in Lanzhou, Gansu province smells like something fishy going on.

The tap water there contains benzene levels that far exceed national limits and residents weren't even told about this until 18 hours after tests were conducted. When benzene is ingested it can cause vomiting, dizziness, convulsions and even death in high dosages.

As a result people have raided supermarkets for bottled water or lined up at stations to get fresh water distributed by hoses.

The sole water supplier for Lanzhou's downtown is Veolia Water, a Sino-French joint venture. However, Xinhua reported that soil along a duct between two of Veolia's water works had been contaminated by crude oil leaking from a buried pipeline of Lanzhou Chemincal, a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation.

The investigation was revealed by the chief of the city's environmental protection bureau, Yan Zijiang.

Those less fortunate wait to fill up containers with fresh water
"The channel was carrying water to Veolia Water's No 1 and No 2 plants for decades. Lanzhou Petrochemical's oil pipeline lies under this ditch," Yan said, adding that the leakage had been located and was being repaired.

China Central Television also reported that the petrochemical pipeline was laid just next to the water plant's internal reservoir.

How could a crude pipeline be built next door to a water plant? And more importantly, who approved this?

One would think this was common sense, but either it was completely overlooked (with the possibility of bribes) or no one thought it would be a problem (with the possibility of bribes).

There are over 2 million people in Lanzhou, does it not matter that these people need clean water to live? What did they do wrong to deserve contaminated water?

Apparently Lanzhou residents had been complaining about foul-smelling water since last month, but the government claimed it was just excessive ammonia and was safe to drink. It is unclear for now if the two incidents are related, but ingesting ammonia, even watered down, could affect the esophagus and stomach.

The local government's unconcerned attitude illustrates how it hardly cares for the people it works for and more importantly that officials are probably drinking bottled water.

While Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli is reportedly shocked by the current water contamination, will the government punish those responsible and put regulations in place so that this situation does not happen again -- in any city, town or county?

The incident may inspire some residents to become activists, but at the very least will make people in China more aware of how scarce and crucial clean water is.

What good is it for the country to be the world's second biggest economy and yet its people don't have enough clean water and air to live?

Perhaps Xi should be focusing on that than on "tigers" and "flies"?

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