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2018-06-20 21:35:12

China’s state auditors are holding lower levels of government accountable for the mismanagement of funds pertaining to ecological protection in the Yangtze River Basin, according to an official report released Tuesday.

The National Audit Office revealed that 11 provinces and municipalities along the Yangtze River Economic Belt — which encompasses major cities like Shanghai and Hangzhou, and is home to over 40 percent of the country’s population — were found to have improperly or inadequately implemented environmental protection and pollution control measures.

From December 2013 to January 2018, eight local government authorities and their subsidiaries — mostly in southwestern Guizhou province — illegally used 25.8 million yuan ($4 million) in environmental protection funds for administrative expenses or other projects, the report said. The auditors also found that 197 ecological restoration and pollution control projects in 10 provinces were not being or had not been completed on schedule, while 19 finished projects were deemed ineffective.

“In the past, we focused on the economic efficiency side while auditing,” Liu Feng, an officer at the National Auditing Office, told state broadcaster China Central Television on Tuesday. “[Now] we consider issues not only from an economic perspective, but also from an ecological protection and restoration perspective.”

Though some local governments along the Yangtze have been proactive in curbing illegal dumping and excessive deforestation — over 97,000 such cases have been uncovered since 2016 — the report noted that some areas are still vulnerable. The nitrogen and phosphorus levels in Poyang Lake in Jiangxi province and Dongting Lake in Hunan province still exceed safe levels, threatening biodiversity in these areas.

As China’s longest waterway, the Yangtze River is home to a variety of aquatic mammals that are either endangered or functionally extinct. It’s also the source of drinking water for over 40 percent of the country’s population. However, China’s rapid industrialization along the basin, along with effluent from factories, hospitals, and other sites, has heavily polluted the river, raising an alarm for the Chinese government.

In 2014, the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued guidelines to establish a strict environment and water resource management mechanism along the basin to cope with the rapid pace of industrialization. Two years later, in 2016, President Xi Jinping reaffirmed the government’s commitment to “seize environmental protection, not large-sale development” along the Yangtze.

Cities along the Yangtze have since strengthened their efforts to improve aquatic ecosystems. In April, the city of Yichang in Hubei province announced that it will close all 134 of its riverside chemical factories by 2020 to protect porpoises and other wildlife — in fact, it had already begun doing so the month prior. Weeks after the announcement, local media reported sightings of the critically endangered Yangtze finless porpoise, of which fewer than 2,000 are believed to exist.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Blood-red sewage from a paper mill flows into the Yangtze River near Anqing, Anhui province, Dec. 4, 2013. Chu Yongzhi/VCG)