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Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The people of China are hoping that last summers flood, the worst since 1954 in the Yangtze River, will be a warning to the authorities that they can no longer take the environment for granted ( Down To Earth , Vol 7, No 10). Over the last few months the State Council, China's cabinet, has taken drastic steps to check environmental degradation. It banned logging in Sichuan Province to check soil erosion, one of the main factors that led to the disaster. It also prohibited further land reclamation projects that squeezed the Yangtze's flood plains and has earmarked US $two billion for reforestation drive in the barren hills of Yangtze's upper reaches.

The future of China's environment is one of the most serious issue for the country . Its environment is also an important concern for the rest of the world. By early next century, China will probably produce more greenhouse gases than the US, which is considered to be the world's number one polluter. "If we had embraced environmental issues years ago, we would not have had these problems," said Lian Congjie, the president of Friends of Nature, one of the China's few semi-independent environmental organisations.

Since the mid-1970, the Chinese government has emptied 104 lakes and converted them into cotton fields and housing complexes. Two of the largest lakes in China, Dongting and Poyang lakes, have become the victims of haphazard land reclamation. The extent of environmental damage was apparent from the fact that the Yangtze's flow peaked at less than 2 million cubic feet per second, a rate it had surpassed 23 times since 1949, according to the official statistics. Therefore, this years flow was not unprecedented, yet over 3,656 people died and 26 million hectares of land got submerged. One thing is certain. It will not be an easy road to recovery. It is reflected in the statement made by Xu Xinbin, chief of the Yangxin County. "My pockets are empty, how will I restore the lakes," he said.

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