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A Major Move in the Construction of Rural Conservation Culture--Comments of SEPA Vice Minister Wu Xiaoqing on the Suggestions on Strengthening the Environmental Protection Work in Rural Areas

The State Council transferred the Suggestions on Strengthening the Environmental Protection Work in Rural Areas (Guo Ban Fa No. [2007] 63) (hereinafter referred to as the Suggestions) drafted by the SEPA, NDRC, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Land and Resources and State Forestry Administration on November 13 of 2007. The Suggestions is an overarching document fully implementing the gist of the 17th National Congress of the CPC, materialization of the scientific outlook on development, building a socialist harmonious society and guiding the coordinated development of rural economy, society and the environment of China. In order to accurately grasp the essence of the Suggestion, our correspondent had a special interview with SEPA Vice Minister Wu Xiaoqing recently:

Q: The strengthening of environmental protection works in rural areas is a must for the construction of conservation culture. The release of this Suggestions marks a major event in the environmental protection development in rural areas in China. Could you please introduce to us the backdrop for its release and its significance?

A: The 17th National Congress of the CPC spells out the request for establishing conservation culture, balancing urban and rural development and building a new socialist countryside. The establishment of conservation culture and the promotion of the building of a new socialist countryside require us to give enough attention to rural environmental protection. The present situation of rural environment is not in conformity with the request of building a new socialist countryside and establishing a harmonious society, which has already become the bottleneck for the social and economic sustainable development in rural areas. Some regions have witnessed remarkable increase of various types of diseases resulted from environmental pollution, thus posing severe threat to the health of massive rural population; the practice of wastewater irrigation of farmland and overdose of pesticides and fertilizer in some regions have caused the quality deterioration, decrease of production volume and even total failure of farm produce, consequently affecting the income growth of farmers; and some regions have saw ever-increasing amount of public complaints on environmental protection, and the massive incidents triggered by environmental pollution have shown an upward trend, thus affecting the stability of rural community. All these environmental problems would definitely affect the building of a new socialist countryside and the full establishment of a well-off society without prompt settlement.

Environmental problems in rural areas have drawn high attention and wide-spread concern from the Central Committee of the CPC, the State Council and all social sectors. In recent years, various state leaders have made repeated written instructions on strengthening rural environmental protection, requesting parties concerned to seriously increasing efforts in this regard. At the "two sessions" (full conference of the National People's Congress and of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference) of each year during the last couple of years, tens of proposals tabled by the NPC and motions presented by the CPPCC are targeting environmental problems in rural areas. The proper handling of rural environmental protection works must be based on a guideline for defining the overall deployment. In this connection, the SEPA, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Health and other related departments jointly launched the research on environmental protection in rural areas during the first half of this year. In the wake of extensive and in-depth research and investigation, SEPA, NDRC, Ministry of Agriculture and other departments drafted the Suggestions and submitted it to the State Council for approval and transfer.

The Suggestions is a crucial decision made based on thorough analysis of the environmental protection situation and tasks in rural areas in China, which fully demonstrates the high attention the Central Committee of the CPC and the State Council put on rural environmental protection. The release of the Suggestions will greatly promote the reinforcement of rural environmental protection, the advancement of different localities to putting rural environmental protection work to a more prominent and important position, the establishment of rural conservation culture and the extensive mobilization of all social forces to enhancing the building of a new socialist countryside. Its great significance is mainly embodied in the following three aspects:

First, the Suggestions are the specific reflection of in-depth implementation of scientific outlook on development and the building of rural conservation culture. The scientific outlook on development is the concentrated demonstration of the ideology and methodology of Marxism on development, and it requires the adherence to "putting people at the first place" and "all-round and coordinated sustainable development" so as to promote the overall development of economy, society and people. The Suggestions brings forward the basic tasks of implementing scientific outlook on development in the field of environmental protection in rural areas. First, the improvement of the production and living environment in rural areas and the enablement of rural population to drinking clean water, breathing fresh air and taking safe food is the concentrated demonstration of "putting people at the first place" in the field of rural environmental protection. Second, the resolving of outstanding environmental problems in rural areas is conducive to the "five coordination" and the enhancement of balanced and coordinated development. Third, the putting of rural environmental protection at a more important and prominent position and integrating it in the overall arrangement of rural economic and social development is conducive to sustainable development.

Second, the Suggestions are a major move in promoting the building of a new socialist countryside. Rural areas cover a vast scope of region in China and are home to huge population, and it plays a decisive role in national economic development. Therefore, the proper handling of issues relating to "agriculture, countryside and farmers" is the top priority of all the works of the CPC. The rural environmental protection is connected to the sustainable development of agriculture, the direct interests of farmers and the harmony and stability of countryside. Furthermore, it also concerns the sound and fast development of national economy and overall social progress.

Third, the Suggestions are the urgent need for resolving environmental problems affecting farmers' health and rural sustainable development. The environmental protection situation in rural areas nowadays in China is rather grave. In specific, point pollution and non-point source pollution are both in existence, domestic-sourced pollution and industrial pollution are aggravating each other, all types of old and new pollution are interwoven, and industrial and urban pollution are transferred to rural areas. First, there is still some hidden trouble regarding rural drinking water safety. Presently, over 300 million rural people are exposed to substandard drinking water supply, among which 90 million are taking unsafe drinking water caused by pollution. A large portion of rural drinking water sources have not been brought under effective protection with ineffective pollution treatment and weak capacity in monitoring and supervision. Second, the situation of rural domestic pollution is exacerbating. According to calculation, rural areas across China produce around 280 million tons of domestic refuse, over 9 billion tons of sewage and 260 million tons of human excrement annually. Most of these wastes haven't gone through any form of treatment, domestic sewage and refuse are dumped, discarded and discharged everywhere recklessly. Some areas can be depicted as "modernized indoor while dirty and mess-up outdoor". Third, the problem of non-point source pollution is becoming increasingly outstanding. China ranks the No. 1 globally in terms of the application volume of fertilizer and pesticide. According to statistics, the total application volume of fertilizer and pesticide of China is 47 and over 1.3 million tons respectively, while the usage rate of the two is merely at around 30% with the runoff causing eutrophication of surface water and groundwater pollution. Fourth, the situation of livestock and poultry breeding-induced pollution is ever-worsening. The manure produced by livestock and poultry is as high as 2.7 billion tons annually with 80% of the scaled livestock and poultry breeding farms yet to be equipped with pollution treatment facilities. In some regions, the pollution caused by livestock and poultry pollution has become a major cause for water environment degradation. Fifth, the problem of pollution from rural industry and mines is rather severe. The scattering layout of rural and township enterprises, outmoded technologies and the lack of pollution treatment facilities in most of these enterprises have brought about serious environmental pollution. The situation of urban industrial pollution moving to mountain and rural areas is intensifying, and the area of farmland occupied or damaged by urban and industrial solid wastes nationwide numbers over 2 million mu. Sixth, rural ecological damage is very grave. Currently, a lot of plundering behavior of quarrying and mining, sand mining on riverbed, soil mining by damaging farmland, steep slope cultivation, reclaims land by surrounding and filling in lake bottom and deforestation and land reclamation still exist in rural areas of China. As a result, many ecological system functions have been severely damaged. Rural environmental problems constrain economic development, jeopardize people's health, affect social harmony and stability and now are on the edge of resolute addressing with no other way out.

Q: What are the major contents of the Suggestions?

A: It is composed of 18 items in four aspects.

First, it fully elaborates the importance and urgency of environmental protection in rural areas. The Suggestions points out that currently, the environmental situation in rural areas is very grave, some rural environmental problems have already become the major factors jeopardizing farmers' health and the safety of their property, thus constraining sustainable rural economic and social development. The Suggestions requires various localities and departments to make unified planning over both urban and rural environmental protection, put rural environmental protection work at a more important and prominent position and make more endeavor to address rural environmental problems from an overall and strategic point of view.

Second, it pinpoints the guiding thoughts, basic principles and striving goals for rural environmental protection works. The guiding thoughts for environmental protection work in rural areas is to stick to the principle of putting people at the first place and unified planning on both urban and rural areas, incorporating the tasks of rural environmental protection and rural living environment betterment, promoting sustainable development of agriculture, improving farmers' living standard and health level and safeguarding the quality safety of farm produce in light of scientific outlook on development and in line with the request of establishing a resource-saving and environment-friendly society. Besides, we should earnestly fulfill the works of source pollution control, whole-process management and multiple-purposed use of wastes, take efforts in enhancing environment-friendly rural production and living pattern and promote the building of a new socialist countryside in a bid to provide environmental safety guarantee for the building of socialist harmonious society.

The Suggestions identifies the four principles in rural environmental protection, namely unified planning and highlighting key points; fully accommodating to local conditions and giving instructions as per different categories; relying on science and technology and innovation mechanism; and government leadership with public participation.

The major targets of environmental protection in rural areas are as follows: by 2010, the aggravating trend of environmental pollution in rural areas is to be checked, and the environmental quality of rural drinking water source areas is to be improved to a certain degree, the soil pollution and agricultural pollution situation nationwide shall be grasped. the prevention and control of agricultural non-point source pollution obtain certain headways, both the coverage rate of fertilizer formula application technology based on soil quality examination and of pesticide of high efficiency, low toxicity and low residue shall be lifted by over 10%, the multi-purpose usage of livestock and poultry manure and farm stalks as well as the treatment rate of domestic refuse and sewage should be boosted by more than 10%, the renovation work of water distribution facility and toilet is progressing smoothly, the percentage of rural households with sanitary toilets is raised to 65%, serious rural environmental and health hazards shall be brought under effective control, the prevention and control of industrial pollution and domestic pollution in rural areas gains preliminary headways, ecological demonstrational and establishment work is carried out extensively, rural environmental supervision capacity is considerably intensified, public awareness on environmental protection is improved, and rural living and production environment witnesses certain degree of betterment. By 2015, the living environment and eco-environment in rural areas is substantially improved, the worsening situation of agriculture-related and rural non-point source pollution is checked, the rural environmental supervision capacity and public awareness on environmental protection is noticeably boosted, and rural environment, the economy and the society are undergoing coordinated development.

Third, seven major outstanding rural environmental problems should be strenuously addressed. The first one is to reinforce the protection of rural drinking water source areas and the betterment of drinking water quality; the second is to energetically promote the treatment of domestic pollution in rural areas; the third is to practice rigid control over rural industrial pollution; the fourth is to upgrade the prevention and control of pollution from poultry and aquatic farming; the fifth is to curb agricultural non-point source pollution; the sixth is to actively prevent and control soil pollution in rural areas; and the seventh is to upgrade ecological conservation in rural areas.

Fourth, six major measures have been put forward on strengthening rural environmental protection work. The first is to amplify the policy, regulation and standard system on environmental protection in rural areas; the second is to set up and improve the environmental protection management system of rural areas; the third is to increase the input in rural environmental protection; the fourth is to consolidate the supporting role of science and technology; the fifth is to step up the monitoring and supervision of rural environment; the sixth is to heighten the popularization, education and training efforts.

Q: Rural environmental protection is a systematic work, and the implementation of the Suggestions and the fulfillment of the goals stipulated in the Suggestions involves many ministries and departments. In this connection, what are the major works and primary tasks for the environmental protection working system?

A: The environmental protection work in rural areas covers a wide range of areas and faces arduous tasks, thus demanding the joint enhancement of multiple departments and parties concerned. Therefore, the work mechanism for close teaming up of related departments should be set up to make overall deployment over rural environmental protection work nationwide. In specific, the environmental protection working system nationwide should focus attention on the handling of the following works centered on rural drinking water source area protection, treatment of domestic sewage and refuse, comprehensive treatment of industrial pollution, treatment of livestock and poultry pollution, prevention and control of agricultural non-point source pollution and prevention and control of soil pollution at present and in the near future:

First, survey on basic rural environmental conditions should be properly dealt with. In line with the unified deployment made in the First National Pollution Source Census and the National Soil Pollution Situation Survey, we must strengthen the role of leadership, make thorough arrangement and careful plan to ensure the quality and the on-time completion of the survey work and to grasp the latest situation of the rural pollution across the nation in order to provide scientific reference for the strengthening of rural environmental supervision, optimization of rural industrial structure and the exploration and formulation of economic and social development policies. We must take immediate move in conducting the survey on the environmental situation of rural drinking water source areas and start the survey work in areas at which the drinking water is subject to relatively serious pollution and causes severe threat to local people's health. Only by doing so can we build a solid foundation for the delimitation of rural drinking water source protected areas and safeguarding drinking water safety for the people.

Second, the environmental protection planning in rural areas should be earnestly carried out. The proper handling of the leading part of planning can secure the winning of the initiative in terms of strategy and on the whole. Different localities should spare no time in drawing up and implementing rural environmental protection plans by focusing on the ones for township environmental protection, rural drinking water source area protection and the treatment of small river basins. Each locality should proceed from their local conditions coupled with the building of a new socialist countryside and agricultural restructuring, coupled with the transformation of the production and living pattern of farmers and coupled with the plan on the layout of villages and towns and village construction to make unified headways in the implementation of the plan in an effort to prevent environmental pollution and ecological destruction at the root of decision-making. Through the implementation of the environmental protection plan, they should materialize related projects, put the necessary fund in place, advance the overall treatment of rural environment and seriously address outstanding environmental problems affecting people's health and sustainable development. The centralized residential areas in rural areas in the new plan should take full account of the request of resource conservation and environmental protection and accelerate environmental infrastructure construction.

Third, rural environmental supervision management should be greatly tightened. We must improve rural environmental monitoring system, set up and amplify the monitoring indicator scheme and information system and upgrade the environmental monitoring of rural drinking water source protected areas, scaled livestock and poultry farms and the production areas of major farm produce. We must augment the environmental supervision and law enforcement in rural areas, practice harsh investigation and punishment over illegal pollution discharge behaviors of heavily-polluting industries of small papermaking, chemical, smeltery and cement factories. Enterprises with long-standing beyond-standard pollution discharge, disguised and secret pollution discharge through discharge outlets without permission and discharge without any treatment must all be stopped production for rectification. Construction projects putting into operation or production without approval must all be stopped operation or production. Enterprises or production capacities that are unable to be treated must all be closed down. Related environmental access standard must be implemented in a stringent way to prohibit the approval of projects in rural areas not in conformity with regional functional positioning and development trend or national industrial policy. Environmental supervision must be intensified over nature reserves, and illegal mining or tourism activities leading to ecological damages must be harshly cracked down. Rural environmental protection work forces must be heightened to secure necessary working conditions including monitoring and law enforcement facilities and necessary funds. Provincial, city-level and county-level environmental protection departments should set aside special rural environmental protection organs or staff, and county-level environmental protection departments must set up its local office at the jurisdictional county (town) to translate rural environmental protection works into real move.

Fourth, rural environmental laws, regulations and policies should be promptly improved. We must make prompt move to draft the Law on the Prevention and Control of Soil Pollution, Regulation on the Prevention and Control of Pollution Caused by Livestock and Husbandry Breeding and the Regulation on Environmental Protection in Rural Areas, set up and consolidate the system of standard and methodologies including rural environmental monitoring, information accounting and quality evaluation and consolidate the technical specifications on the treatment of rural domestic sewage and refuse immediately. Various localities should fully cater to their real situation in laying down suitable rural environmental protection regulations and standards, take immediate action in improving rural environment-related economic policy system, encourage the development of such environment-friendly production modes as multi-purpose usage of resources, rural clean energy and the production of organic fertilizer. In addition, pilot works on ecological compensation should be launched with priority in rural drinking water source areas, nature reserves and mining areas.

Fifth, scientific and technological support should be beefed up constantly. We must use science and technology to stimulate the progress of environmental protection work in rural areas, concentrate our efforts in studying, developing and popularizing key and suitable environmental protection technologies for rural areas. Key scientific and technological problem tackling projects should be initiated over the research of such key subjects and technologies as the formation and elimination mechanism of agricultural non-point source pollution, rehabilitation of polluted soil and restoration of the ecological function of water bodies. The R&D and promotion of the technologies of the treatment of rural domestic sewage and refuse, multi-purpose use of agricultural wastes and the eco-environment restoration and treatment of mining areas should be speeded up in a bid to provide powerful technical support to the effectively prevention and control rural pollution and ecological damage. Through the approaches of classified instruction, pilot demonstration as well as education and training, new schemes should be established on the promotion and service of science and technology so as to enhance the application of environmental protection technologies suitable for rural areas. Rural environmental protection science and technology projects should also be included into state-level and local problem tackling programs to rely on social forces on scientific research to fully promote the development of the cause of environmental sciences.

Sixth, inter-departmental coordination mechanism should be set up and consolidated. Environmental protection departments at various levels should serve as the consultant and assistant and offer good recommendations to local CPC Committee and local government. We must set up and consolidate the inter-departmental joint meeting system, the information reporting system, joint supervision and inspection system and legal case transfer system and fully exert the advantage of joint move by multiple departments to jointly launch the work on the prevention and control of rural environmental pollution and jointly address the key and difficult problems concerning rural environment. Environmental protection departments at various levels should be confident enough in law enforcement and be active in communicating, coordinating and collaborating with as well as serving relevant departments so as to foster the working situation of joint handling, work division and promotion by concerted efforts for the environmental protection work in rural areas.

Presently, the primary task in rural environmental protection is to earnestly strengthen the environmental protection and water quality betterment of rural drinking water source areas, safeguard drinking water quality so as to enable rural population to drink clean water. Judged from the joint survey recently launched by the SEPA together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Construction and Ministry of Health on rural and agricultural environmental protection, the water supply situation in the countryside has already saw some improvement in some regions. However, the general situation nationwide allows no optimism. In the future, we must focus our attention on the protection of rural drinking water source areas, delimit rural drinking water source protected areas lawfully and scientifically; upgrade the monitoring and supervision of rural drinking water source protected areas, resolutely eliminate pollution discharge outlets within drinking water source protected areas, prohibit the entering of toxic and hazardous substances into such protected areas; lay down the emergency response plan for rural drinking water source protected areas, heighten the prevention and emergency response of water pollution accidents, take rigorous measures to prevent pollution of water sources by the breeding industry; and strictly prohibit direct or indirect discharge of beyond-standard wastewater into rivers and lakes so as to ensure the drinking water safety of rural population.

Q: Apart from governmental promotion, rigorous participation of rural population is also an indispensable part for rural environmental protection. What should we do to increase the popularization and education efforts, raise farmers' environmental awareness and inspire their enthusiasm so as to finally build up the social basis of extensive participation?

A: Farmers constitute the main force in the building of a new socialist countryside. To this end, the environmental awareness and quality of farmers plays a decisive role for rural environmental protection work. We must improve our campaign and education efforts in the following three aspects:

The first one is to take more moves in conducting training programs over environmental protection knowledge targeting grass-root cadres and the common people to raise their environmental awareness. We should make full use of all forms of media including radio, film, TV, newspaper and the Internet to make extensive popularization of rural environmental protection knowledge in diversified forms of special interview, series report, special TV program and training courses, initiate training courses on rural environmental protection techniques and skills and actively lead grass-root cadres and the common people in rural areas to consciously foster healthy and civilized production, living and consumption pattern.

The second is to develop public discussion and science popularization activities in multiple levels and forms. We should organize related experts to compile series of books on rural environmental protection scientific knowledge and popularize rural environmental protection knowledge and advocate environmental culture and conservation culture with the aid of wall map and popular science books in an effort to boost the understanding on the importance of the protection and quality improvement of rural environment among the entire society and encourage more people to participate in rural environmental protection work. We should vigorously conduct rural environmental protection knowledge popularization campaign based on various activities such as the Action Plan of Environmental Protection Science Popularization in the Countryside.

The third is to practice rural environmental quality public reporting system, release rural environmental quality information on a regular basis, invite personage of democratic parties and without affiliation to any party as well as volunteers to participate in the decision making of major issues on rural environmental protection work, supervise rural environmental protection work and guide the whole society to supervise and promote rural environmental protection work.

Environmental public campaign and education is a major measure for national environmental protection, and it must be fully employed and given to full play in rural environmental protection work. Great efforts should be made on public campaign and education to mobilize farmers' enthusiasm and initiative to participate in rural environmental protection and to create the sound atmosphere of caring for and supporting rural environmental protection work by the entire society.

Q: The Suggestions defines the goals for rural environmental protection work in the future. What are the key points in securing the final realization of these goals?

A: As an ancient Chinese statesman noted, "the difficult point in doing anything in the world doesn't rest with the making of law but the absolute enforcement of every piece of law". The sticking point in the realization of the goals stipulated in the Suggestions lies in strict implementation. Rural environment is an organic component of the overall environment, and rural environmental protection is the unshirkable obligation of environmental protection departments. The resolving of prominent rural environmental problems at present is the duty of environmental protection departments that admits of no excuse. The strengthening of rural environmental protection work is the organic component for the building of a new socialist countryside, and environmental protection departments should try utmost efforts in carrying out this work. Environmental protection departments at all levels should carefully implement the gist of the Suggestions, increase the understanding of the importance and urgency of rural environmental protection, make unified planning of urban and rural environmental protection, prevention and control of industrial and agricultural pollution and point source and non-point source pollution treatment from the overall and strategic level, put rural environmental protection work at a more crucial and prominent position, team up with related departments to form joint force, mobilize the whole society to jointly fulfill the work of rural environmental protection and strive to build up the new conservation culture based on traditional agricultural civilization.

(This English version is for your reference only.In case any discrepancy exists between the Chinese and English context, the Chinese version shall prevail.)

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