China has some of the dirtiest and most dangerous water in the world. This detailed and interactive timeline shows key pollution events, protests, and policy reforms from the last eight years at both the national and regional levels as China tries to clean up its act.
While the Chinese government has made great strides in pushing investment and innovation in a cleaner economy, promoting political reforms for water protection has not risen to the same priority, due in part to bureaucratic turf battles and the weak enforcement power of local environmental protection bureaus. For instance, Chinese policymakers have revised the water pollution control law three times since 1984, yet quality has worsened.
Despite improvements in municipal wastewater-treatment rates during the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), water quality has not improved considerably. This is largely because of agricultural runoff and animal waste from China’s burgeoning factory-farm sector, responsible for 57 percent of nitrogen discharge, about two-thirds of phosphorus discharge, and more than 43 percent of the chemical oxygen demand (COD), according to a 2011 pollution census.
Furthermore, approximately 40 percent of the nation’s major rivers are so polluted that they can only be used for industry or landscaping, according to a 2010 environmental assessment survey by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Protests over water pollution accidents in China are now occurring with such frequency, say China specialists and environmental advocates, that they signal an awakening of the public conscience about the environment. In 2009, China had nearly 90,000 “mass incidents” (protests involving more than 100 people), thousands of which were over environmental concerns, according to a recent study by Nankai University. The graphic above chronicles the plight of China’s protesters and policy makers during the last eight years.
Infographic by Mark Townsend, a recently graduated visual journalist, and Katelin Carter, a current student, both of Ball State University‘s journalism graphics program. Data collection and research led by Zifei Yang and Wenfang Wang-Soloski, research interns with the D.C.-based China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Additional contributions by Nadya Ivanova, a Chicago-based reporter for Circle of Blue, and Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum. Reach Ivanova at circleofblue.org/contact. Follow Ivanova on Twitter.