Under the Five-Year Environmental Protection Plan, provinces are required to set water improvement targets at the start of each five-year plan period.
As China embarks on its 13th Five Year Period (13FYP), how have provinces fared in their efforts to meet their water quality targets in the 12FYP?
To find out, Greenpeace East Asia gathered and analysed 145 sets of surface water quality data from 31 province-level environmental protection bureaus for China’s 12FYP (2011-2015). Below is a summary of the results from the report: “Assessment Report on Provincial Surface Water Quality Improvement in China’s 12FYP” (in Chinese).
Nearly half of provinces fail to meet water quality challenges
15 provinces successfully met their water quality targets over the 12FYP (see map below). Of these provinces, Jiangsu, Anhui and Shaanxi saw the most improvement in water quality. The percentage of “good quality” water1 (fit for human touch) in Anhui grew by 7.1% over the 12FYP. In six other provinces, namely Xizang, Xinjiang, Fujian, Guangxi, Gansu and Guizhou, more than 80% of surface water reached “good quality”.
15 provinces met their water quality targets over the 12FYP; 14 provinces failed
However, 14 provinces failed to meet their water quality targets. These include Inner Mongolia, Sichuan and Shanxi, where surface water quality2 declined between 2011 and 2015. The percentage of “good quality” water in Inner Mongolia and Sichuan dropped by 13.6% and 6.3%, respectively.
Due to a lack of consistent water quality data from Chongqing for the entire five-year plan period and a lack of measurable targets in Tianjin, it was not possible to determine whether these two provinces met their surface water quality goals.
A Tale of Two Provinces: Jiangsu & Henan
Jiangsu is a province which showed a dramatic improvement in surface water quality over the 12FYP; the percentage of “good quality” surface water increased from 35.5% in 2011 to 48.2% in 2015. Furthermore, the percentage of non-functional surface water unsuitable for any use3 declined from 19.9% to 2.4 % in those years. A closer look revealed that enhanced sewage treatment systems and a decline in pollution-heavy industry corresponded with these surface water improvements.
Jiangsu improves while Henan deteriorates
By contrast, water quality in Henan province has deteriorated since 2012. By 2015, only 43.4% of the province’s water was of “good quality” and 22.9% of water was not suitable for any use. This decline corresponds with a high rate of chemical fertiliser use and a lack of sufficient wastewater treatment. Water quality in Henan is an issue of regional importance, as the province is home to four major river basins: the Yellow, Yangtze, Hai and Huai.
Key urban areas suffer as national progress slows
Moreover, just meeting targets does not necessarily mean good water quality and water pollution in key urban areas is particularly severe. Shanghai is a case in point.
Although Shanghai achieved its 12FYP water quality targets, 85.3% of water in its major rivers was unfit for human touch
Although Shanghai achieved its 12FYP water quality target, pollution levels in the province remained high. At the end of the 12FYP, 85.3% of water in Shanghai’s major rivers was of “bad quality”4 (unfit for human touch) and 56.4% of water in the rivers was not suitable for any use. None of the water in those rivers was categorised in the highest two grades (I or II).
As for Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, the percentage of total surface water that was unsuitable for any use (even agriculture and industry) was 39.9%, 65.9% and 30.2% in 2015 respectively. In Tianjin particularly, the percentage of “bad quality” surface water reached 95.1%.
On a national scale, while surface water quality improved during the first two years of the 12FYP, this improvement flattened off beginning in 2013. In eight provinces, more than half of the water in major rivers was classified as “bad quality” as of 2015.
“On a national scale, while surface water quality improved during the first two years of the 12FYP, this improvement flattened off beginning in 2013″
The path ahead: provinces must take initiative
In 2015, the State Council issued the “Water Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan” (also known as the “Water Ten Plan”). Among other targets, the plan stipulates that the amount of non-functional surface water in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area must be reduced by 15% by 2020. The plan also mandates the elimination of all non-functional water from the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta by 2020.
All provinces need to set ambitious water improvement targets and to meet Water Ten Plan goals
These targets aim high and provinces need to take responsibility. Based on results from the report, it is clear that all provinces need to set ambitious water improvement targets and to meet those goals. Shanghai and Tianjin in particular need to prioritise water quality improvement. Similarly, provinces that have shown a decline in surface water quality, such as Inner Mongolia, Sichuan, and Shanxi, must take initiative to reverse this trend.
More specifically, the case studies of Jiangsu and Hunan shed light on some of the factors that can contribute to water quality improvement, such as a decreased reliance on heavy industry, decreased chemical fertiliser use and improved sewage treatment systems.
1 “Good quality” water defined here as Grade I – III (fit for human contact)
2 Surface water refers to water from rivers and lakes. For some provinces, only data from rivers was available for analysis. Details are available in report.
3 ”Non-functional/not suitable for any use” defined here as worse than Grade V water
4 “Bad quality” water defined here as Grade IV or worse (unfit for human contact)
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