The government is setting aside nearly $500 billion to control the unabated air pollution in major Chinese cities and prevent the contamination of water resources across the country, environment ministry officials said on Sunday.
The Chinese government will spend more than 3 trillion Yuan or around $489.3 billion to prevent air pollution and for checking and treating contaminated water, senior officials told a seminar on environment protection on Sunday in Shanghai.
Pollution has long been the dark side of China's startling economic growth in the past few decades. Environmental groups say the Communist Party of China (CPC) sacrificed clean environment in a bid to enhance and sustain fast economic growth.
While millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty because of the country's fast growth, the unchecked model of growth has left a deep and negative impact on the environment.
A latest report from Greenpeace East Asia, that covers mainland China, for example, claimed that a Chinese state-run coal company was overexploiting water resources and illegally discharging toxic wastewater in Inner Mongolia.
"(The company) Shenhua's operations have sparked social unrest and caused severe ecological damage including desertification, impacting farmers and herders who are facing reduced water supplies," the report – which has been quietly censored in the state media – said last week.
The Shenhua Group's coal-to-liquid project in Inner Mongolia has reduced groundwater levels and drained an important lake by almost two-thirds, it said.
Environment-related protests by the Chinese have also seen a sharp rise in the last few years. Several projects have been suspended or under review after local residents took to the streets, protesting that industrial projects could contaminate ground water or pollute the air.
In January, emergency measures had to be put in place including halting school outdoor activities, suspending construction and banning government vehicles from plying to cut down the excessive pollution that had covered Beijing for a week.
Recently, thousands of dead pigs were dumped in a Shanghai river, sparking fears of large-scale water pollution.
From Sunday's announcement, it appears that the government has been monitoring the rather grim situation.
"An airborne pollution prevention and control action plan, which will be released soon, will be backed by 1.7 trillion Yuan in investment from the central government," Wang Tao, an official with the pollution prevention department under the ministry of environmental protection (MEP), was quoted by state-run Xinhua news agency on Sunday.
Wang added that an estimated 2 trillion Yuan will be allocated "to enhance monitoring of drinking water sources and control poisonous contaminants as was required by a water pollution prevention and control action plan in formulation."
In addition, the MEP is drafting a national standard for surface water quality, according to Zhao Yingmin, director-general of the MEP's science, technology and standards department.