A Watershed Moment

By Christine Loh 8 February, 2010

Christine Loh reminds us not to overlook or discount its importance – water is the source of life.

Water policies for any country must be top priority as sufficiency of supply is under threat in many places.
A new government survey showed water pollution levels in 2007 were twice as bad as the official estimate.

Water issues are finally taking centre stage in policy circles in China and elsewhere around the world. The obvious needs to be said and repeated just so we don’t overlook or discount its importance – water is the source of life – we cannot do without clean water. Water policies for any country must become a top priority as sufficiency of supply is under threat in many places.

The good news is the Chinese government has done its own comprehensive homework and now knows the problem is as big as it is urgent. A new government survey of the country’s pollution sources has shown water pollution levels in 2007 were twice as bad as the official estimate largely because agricultural wastewater hadn’t been adequately included before. The prior knowledge of this at senior government levels may well have provoked the 2008 financial stimulus package to include a large chunk for water treatment infrastructure.

The survey has also ignited calls for the full data sets to be publicly released so that details can be better understood, which should lead to improved monitoring and regulation. Industries will have to invest in water treatment, and regulators will have to ensure treatment is in fact done. Hopefully, official will power has been strengthened as promotions are now tied to meeting environmental goals as well as economic ones. Municipal authorities are investing in sewage plants, but the plants must operate. Difficult issues relating to the setting of water and sewage treatment prices must be reviewed to eliminate the temptation to turn off the treatment plants to save money.

2010 is a crucial year. National plans require wastewater pollution to be reduced by 10% from 2005 levels. This won’t be easy in light of the underestimate in agriculture wastewater. At least there should be a lot more dialogue and debate in China for greater efforts to be made to clean-up. This might just turn out to be a “watershed” year in every sense of the word.

Christine Loh
Author: Christine Loh
Christine Loh is the founder and CEO of Civic Exchange, an independent, non-profit public policy think tank. Loh has an English law degree and a Masters of Law degree in Chinese and Comparative Law. She has been awarded the degree of Doctors of Law, honoris causa, by her alma mater, the University of Hull. Loh spent 14 years in the commercial world, having held top regional posts in a US multinational company in commodities trading, and subsequently in strategic management for a Hong Kong company. She was appointed to the Hong Kong Legislative Council in 1992, and then ran two successful elections in 1995 and 1998. She has anchored public affairs radio shows, and writes extensively in academic as well as general publications on a variety of subjects. She is well known for her work on environmental protection. Since starting Civic Exchange, she has also written and commented extensively on economics and political economy as well as corporate social responsibility. Loh sits on the boards of a number of high profile local as well as international non-profit organizations, including the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Asia Society’s International Advisory Panel, and the Rocky Mountain Institute, USA. She has received numerous awards, including the Outstanding Young Persons Award (1988), Communicator of the Year (1994), Global Young Leader – World Economic Forum (1995), Asia’s Rising Stars – Businessweek (1998) and (2000). Her background in law, business, politics and media has helped her to be a leading voice on public policy in Hong Kong. In her private life, she is an art collector, video filmmaker and writer.
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