For the first time, China looks serious towards the environmental problems. It has recently put the environment protection issue in the government's priority list, which is at par with agriculture, forestry, water conservation, energy, transport and telecom, says Qu Geping, director of the National Peoples Congress Resources and Environment Sub-committee.

In the last five years, government's funding for environmental protection undertakings has exceeded us $ 6 billion annually. And nearly 70,000 polluting enterprises across the country, have been shut down in the last three years.

The cleaning up of the Huihe, one of the most polluted rivers in China, cost the central and local governments some us $60 million from 1994-97. According to Qu, another us $ 1.8 billion will be spent before the year 2000, to continue the clean-up of the Huihe river.

China's five-year plan which covers the 1996-2000 period, projects a total investment of us $ 54.3 billion for environmental protection projects all over the country, or 0.8 per cent of the country's gross domestic product. Qu adds that annual input in a dozen coastal cities has exceeded that per centage.

However, the tasks ahead are difficult to accomplish as problems range from severe and almost nation-wide water shortages to soil erosion and continuous skrinkage of farm land. Despite the country's intensive efforts, water and air pollution still exist. Pollution has reached each of the seven main rivers in China. Of the 600 cities nation-wide, only five or six enjoy clean air defined as first grade by the state.

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