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China steps up pollution war

A band of thick haze can be seen over southern China in this satellite photo
A band of thick haze can be seen over southern China in this satellite photo  

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China has launched a massive 700 billion yuan ($84 billion) 5-year environmental protection plan to combat a worsening pollution problem.

State-run Xinhua news agency reported that the plan details goals for pollution control that is wreaking havoc on cities and rural areas throughout the East Asian nation.

By 2005 China hopes to have reduced the total amount of pollutants in the air, water and soil by 10 percent of 2000 levels.

The plan will focus on reducing air and water pollution, and cleaning up heavily polluted rivers, lakes and seas.

It also focuses on greener construction and infrastructure projects, Xinhua reported.

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The forecasted spending is almost double what China outlaid in on pollution control projects in the 1996-2000 period.

"Never has the Chinese government put the environment issue in such an important position. It is vital to stability and prosperity of our country and people," Xie Zhenhua, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), said in the Xinhua report.

International environmental protection bodies have welcomed the plan and said that it showed that China was beginning to face-up to its ecological problem.

There were concerns however about funding for the plan with the majority of funds set to come from the pollutant producers.

While the government will inject 65 billion yuan to initiate key projects, Xinhua reported that local governments and enterprises that "discharge pollutants" will be responsible for making up the rest of the investment.

Xie said that environmental protection authorities will collect funds from the pollution-producing companies.

Environmental outlook bleak

Zhu called on people to join afforestation projects to beautify the landscape
Zhu called on people to join afforestation projects to beautify the landscape  

The approval of the plan follows comments earlier in the week from Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji who said that China needs to place more attention on environmental protection.

The premier warned that China's environmental outlook was not optimistic and that a growing population and rapid urbanization threaten to wreak havoc on an already perilous ecological balance.

Zhu said that a 360 billion yuan ($43.5 billion) environmental protection program between 1996 and 2000 had tentatively contained the continuing trend of ecological and environmental degradation.

But environmental pollution in some areas was going from bad to worse, the People's Daily quoted the Chinese premier as saying.

Zhu also called on "China's people" to become involved in an afforestation program to make the country "more greener and beautiful", the People's Daily reported.

Speaking at a separate meeting on forestation, Vice-Premier Wen Jiabao added that 35 billion trees had been planted through volunteer afforestation programs in the last 20 years.

However, Zhu said that China was still afflicted by areas of scarce vegetation, which is leading to increased desertification and land erosion.




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