When Pigs Will Fly In The Air And Swim In The Rivers
A couple of weeks ago, the news flashed that the rotting bodies of some 2,000 pigs had been found in a river that supplies tap water to Shanghai
A few day later, the tally had gone to 3,000, then 6,000 and now it has been reported that 13,000 hogs would have been thrown in the river.
Now it appears that figure has gone to 20,000 but ironically the environmental disaster seems to originate from the city of Jiaxing in northern Zhejiang province which prided itself as the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1921, the party met secretly on a boat on the South Lake after their initial gathering in neighbouring Shanghai was broken up by French police.
Reuters reported that this draws “attention to an ugly truth—China’s pig farms are often riddled with disease and one way or another, sick animals often end up in the food chain.” The news agency added: “Authorities have found traces of a common pig virus in some of the animals floating in the Huangpu River and industry insiders say farmers likely dumped them.”
Let us remember that pork is a staple meat in China and its swine population is the world’s largest with 475 million heads.
This year, the National People’s Congress (NPC), the Chinese parliament followed the great Communist tradition of ‘voting’ to elect its new leaders for the next 5 or 10 years, with most of the new team receiving 99 per cent or more of the votes of the 3000-odd NPC delegates.
However, one issue triggered countless comments from the Chinese netizens: though 2,952 delegates voted ‘yes’ in favour of Xi Jinping becoming China’s new president, there was a lone ‘no’ vote. It attracted a lot of attention on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, as bloggers remembered that in 1949, Zhang Dongsun, a philosopher and former CPPCC delegate, had voted against Mao. He was later killed for his alleged incorrect behaviour. Hopefully it will not happen this time around as times have changed.
However many observers have noted the results of the vote for the NPC’s Environmental Protection and Resources Conservation Committee; the new Committee had some 850 negative votes and 125 abstentions, a third of the total votes; this needs to be entered in China’s Guinness Book of Records.
Most of the almost 3,000 NPC deputies greeted the result with a long boo, before clapping as the decision was approved.
The South China Morning Post remarked: “It was one of the lowest approval rates in NPC voting since a plan to construct the massive Three Gorges Dam was endorsed in 1992. About two-third of 2,633 deputies at the time voted for the dam, while 177 opposed it and 664 abstained.”
Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian won the least recognition from delegates, receiving 2,734 ‘yes’, the lowest among 25 ministers.
The Hong Kong newspaper commented: “The unusually strong opposition vote showed that even the mainland’s legislators—one-third of whom are government officials—can no longer bear its filthy air and water.”
A day later, the new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged that his government would “show even greater resolve” in tackling the pollution issue.
During his maiden press conference as Premier, Li encouraged increased public participation in cleaning China’s environment: “This government will show even greater resolve and take more vigorous efforts to clean up such pollution.” He added: “We need to face the situation and punish offenders with no mercy and enforce the law with an iron fist.”
These are strong words in the mouth of a Chinese Premier, but the situation is bad indeed. The Washington Post correspondent, Debra Bruno described Beijing thus: “I woke up in my dark bedroom the other day, head pounding and mouth dry. Before I even got out of bed, I knew that Beijing was having one of its hazardous-air-quality days. …On a similar day a few days before, I’d walked only 10 minutes from my apartment to my friend’s place. By the time I got there, my coat, scarf and hair smelled the way they would have smelled after a night in a smoky bar followed by a couple of hours standing behind a car’s exhaust pipe.” Can you believe it?
Even Li Keqiang admits: “We shouldn’t pursue economic growth at the expense of the environment. Such growth won’t satisfy the people.”
The situation is so serious that according to The China Daily, Beijing has decided to spend 100 billion yuan ($16 billion) over three years to deal with Chinese capital’s pollution “as the government tries to defuse mounting public anger over environmental degradation. …Beijing’s government has pledged to improve sewage disposal, garbage treatment and air quality, as well as crack down on illegal construction.”
Radio Free Asia asserted that toxic chemicals have been found in the ‘pea-soup’ smogs hanging over Beijing, Tianjin and surrounding areas.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) admitted that large amounts of organic nitrogen compounds were detected in Beijing smog in January. Observers called it airpocalypse.
But it is not only air and pigs; the issue is compounded by government policies. China’s State Council (Cabinet) recently published the blueprint for the nations’ energy sector for the years 2011-15. An eight-year-old ban on five megadams on the Nu River (also known as Salween) was lifted, totally ignoring environmentalists’ concerns about geologic and seismic hazards, loss of biodiversity, hazardous resettlement, as well as serious impacts on downstream nations.
Katy Yan, China Program Coordinator for the environmental NGO International Rivers, stated: “China’s plans to go ahead with dams on the Nu, as well as similar projects on the Upper Yangtze and Mekong, shows a complete disregard of well-documented seismic hazards, ecological and social risks.”
When in 2003 13 dams on the Salween were first planned, the then Premier Wen Jiabao, a geologist by profession, put his foot down and stopped the work.
Now, the dam lobbies, particularly the Huadian Corporation, have managed to convince the State Council to agree to proceed with the projects; particularly the Songta Dam, the highest upstream dam in the cascade located in Tibet which is to be completed during the 2011-15 period.
Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “China expects 60,000 people to lose their homes in the remote southwest if a series of four dams along the country’s last free-flowing river gets the go-ahead.”
The most ironical part is that the river is supposedly protected by UNESCO.
Defenders of ‘development-first’ can always argue that it is nothing compared to the massive Three Gorges Dam which cost China $ 59 billion and for which, during the 17 years it took to complete the project, 1.3 million people were relocated.
What is frightening is that Beijing has now decided to ‘urbanise’ China. The priority for the new leaders is to shift people from the countryside to cities in order to sustain economic growth which last year ‘stagnated’ at 7.8 per cent, a 13-year low. Though many warned that China’s urbanisation can only fuel social unrest and more pollution, the government hopes that 60 per cent of China’s 1.4 billion population will be urbanised by 2020.
It is a ticking time-bomb as most of the recent violent clashes in China occurred over expropriation of farmland for development and pollution.
Xi Jinping, the Chinese new President in his inaugural speech, told his countrymen that he will put “arduous efforts for the continued realisation of the great renaissance of the Chinese nation and the Chinese dream”.
Xi also touched on corruption which he has called a threat to the party’s grip on power, and urged delegates to “oppose hedonism and flamboyant lifestyles”.
He also pledged to fight corruption, saying that the government had an “unshakable resolve” to do so, adding: “Clean government should start with oneself. Since we have chosen public service we should give up all thought of making money.”
As the adynaton says, ‘when pigs fly’, many things will happen. One can just hope that environmental issues will be tackled before the pigs start flying.
What about India? For over 30 years I have heard that the Ganga and the Yamuna rivers will soon be clean. But the problem is not cleaning the rivers or the air, it is to stop polluting. As long as wealthy well-connected businessmen continue to pour their waste into the ‘sacred’ rivers of India, the question of cleaning them is pointless.
Let us not wait for the cows to fly!
By Claude Arpi