The Chinese agricultural economy has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. The transition from communal and shared plots to privately managed ones and access to the market economy has provided greater incentives for increasing productivity. This has increased the demand of fertilisers -- from 1990 to 1994 fertiliser use increased from 25.9 million tonnes to 33.1 million tonnes. About 70 per cent of the fertiliser is applied inefficiently. This seeps into the groundwater. Animal and human waste, nitrates from fertilisers and phosphates from detergents are all contributing to eutrophication and algal blooms of not only the freshwater sources but the coastal water as well.

In May 2001, a government release said that a huge red tide of red algae measuring some 2,800 sq km was spotted in the East China Sea near the mouth of the Yangtze river around the Zhoushan Isles off the densely populated city of Shanghai. A red tide is a densely populated algae bloom that breeds in abundance, produces poisons that paralyse and kill fish by consuming virtually all the oxygen in the water. The report said experts had predicted 30 major outbreaks this year in China's coastal waters, posing great danger to the fishery and aquaculture industries.

In small plots of land in cities, people cultivate vegetables or run animal farms to meet the urban demand for vegetable, meat and dairy products. The agricultural plots are irrigated with sewage water and are often treated with pesticides and fertilisers and the animal farms produce a lot of animal waste. All these contaminants end up in the local surface waters.
Too much sewage, too little potable water In 1996, there were only 135 centralised sewage treatment plants operating across China with a capacity to handle about 10 per cent of the total annual urban sewage discharge. Most cities dump untreated water or sewage into nearby surface waters, rivers, lakes and coastal areas. Availability of clean drinking water is another problem with grave consequences for human health. Of the 27 largest cities, only six met the government's drinking water standards. This is primarily due to organic loads entering the waterbodies. This contains a lot of disease-carrying microorganisms. More than half the total population drinks water contaminated with levels of animal and human excreta that exceed maximum permissible levels by as much as 86 per cent in rural areas and 28 per cent in urban areas.

Recent studies have shown how those who drink water contaminated by industrial effluents are at a greater risk of developing cancer, especially that of the liver and the gastrointestinal tract. Pregnant women are at an especially high risk of experiencing health difficulties.
Outstanding: hazardous waste China was one of the first to sign the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. In 1995, it adopted the Law on Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Wastes. In January 1998, the government issued a catalogue of hazardous wastes, providing a list of 47 different types, sources and substances. Indeed, the country's is taking steps to restrict the import of hazardous wastes into the country. But, China has a long way to go in managing production and treatment of wastes produced domestically. About 110 million tonnes of solid wastes are generated in municipal areas every year. Industrial solid waste production, including that from tve s, is estimated at 750 million tonnes. Annual production of hazardous waste stands at 4.3 million tonnes.

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