China Wells Unwell – 80 Percent of Water Tested is Polluted and Unfit to Drink, Indicates Report by Ministry

by Alap Naik Desai, originally posted on April 12, 2016


China’s polluted wells are posing a serious water problem in the country. Evidently, the air pollution that the country is currently facing may be significantly dwarfed by the sheer amount of contaminated water due to frenzied industrial activity and aggressive farming.

Government-sanctioned research has indicated that more than 80 percent of China’s underground water sources that the agency tested are extensively polluted. These sources are being used by farms, factories, and rural households. However, they are actually hazardous and should not be consumed or even used for other purposes like bathing. The level of contamination across the heavily populated and already polluted plains of China is a cause for serious concern, and the country could soon face an acute shortage of drinkable water.

For quite some time, the world has witnessed the thick layer of smog that clouds China’s skies. In fact, the hazy skies have been considered as a measure of environmental crisis. Additionally, research indicates about 2,103 underground wells are heavily polluted, and drawing water from them could be dangerous, reported Economic Times.

While most major Chinese cities have drilled deep within the Earth to source water, many villages and small towns in the countryside still depend on shallow wells, which were part of the testing. The results suggest more than the atmospheric pollution, it is the groundwater contamination that is the graver threat, shared Dabo Guan, a professor at the University of East Anglia in Britain who has been studying water pollution and scarcity in China.

“From my point of view, this shows how water is the biggest environmental issue in China. People in the cities, they see air pollution every day, so it creates huge pressure from the public. But in the cities, people don’t see how bad the water pollution is. They don’t have the same sense.”

The report, compiled by the Water Resources Ministry, indicated that from the 2,103 wells, water from 32.9 percent is suitable only for industrial and agricultural purposes. What’s concerning is that 47.3 percent of the wells are so contaminated that the water cannot be used for any human activity. The Ministry conducted the study on the country’s major eastern flatland watersheds and discovered none of the wells could be considered “pristine” or devoid of any artificial components. However, water in wells in the Beijing area rated better overall than elsewhere in the northeast, reported the Guardian.

Is China going to face acute water shortage soon? Following the media coverage of the report, officials attempted to control the inevitable mass hysteria by assuring the public that majority of the households, primarily in the urban regions, need not worry, as their water comes from reservoirs. The large water storage facilities draw their water from deep aquifers or rivers, which aren’t as polluted as the shallower wells in rural regions. Moreover, the water sent to urban households undergoes extensive purification processes, which makes the water safe for drinking and other human activities.

However, despite the assurance, China is headed towards an ecological crisis, experts fear. Alongside water and air pollution, soil contamination is a steadily worsening issue. Incidentally, all these types of pollution are extensively interlinked, pointed out environmentalists.

Extensive use of land for agriculture means heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides. The artificial chemicals run off into the water sources like wells and lakes. Farmers then bore deeper and draw water, which is increasingly draining the aquifers. Meanwhile, untreated factory waste is being steadily dumped into the ground and nearby water sources, further polluting them.

Interestingly, China has formulated a National Groundwater Pollution Prevention Plan and even announced funding to the tune of 34 billion Yuan ($5.2 billion). However, the disparity between the roles of the Water Resources Ministry and Ministry of Environmental Protection is perhaps hindering the proper implementation.

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