China’s cancer: Water Pollution

Feature Story - 2009-03-20
China's water pollution has reached grave proportions. Greenpeace China Toxics Campaigner Mariah Zhao explains how a visit to a "cancer" village in Jiangsu province solidifed her resolve to stop this human tragedy.

Farmer Wang believes his cancer was caused by industrial pollution.

He should have been working in the fields earning money for his family.

He should have been playing with his children.

He should have been watching television with his wife after dinner.

But Farmer "Wang" lay on the bed, his ribs corrugating his hollow chest. His stomach was cut by a ragged stark scar from a recent surgery.

Farmer Wang has intestinal cancer – one of many cancer victims in his village near Wuxi city in Jiangsu province.

Farmer Wang's cancer, say his family, was caused by water pollution from the army of chemical plants which surround their village and farmland.

The water in Farmer Wang's family well pumps up black and putrid and is topped by a poisonous froth.

Cancer villages

"When I first saw him I was in complete shock. It was heartbreaking": Mariah Zhao, toxics campaigner.

This is not an isolated case. One in four people in China is living with unsafe water.

The situation is now so bad that according to the government, 70 percent of the country's rivers, lakes and reservoirs are not safe for humans to use.

Many factories in Wuxi are located next to rice fields. Farmers have no choice but to use polluted water on their crops.

In the town, grocery shops advertise rice brought in from other places as "clean water rice" (jing shui da mi).

Residents are too afraid to eat locally-grown rice because they believe it has been poisoned by factory effluent.

Almost half of China's waste water comes from industry, according to 2006 figures. Top polluters are pulp and paper, chemicals, power generation and textiles.

Help us clean up water pollution

"When I saw Farmer Wang lying in his bed so helplessly, I felt moved to act," recounts Mariah. "He was too weak to even speak. I felt must take action on behalf of people like Farmer Wang to stop China's water pollution crisis."

Help us prevent more people ending up with Farmer Wang's fate. Help us push for industry to clean up their act. Help us push the government to get tougher on industry.

March 22 is World Water Day.

Please join Greenpeace China's water campaign. We only accept donations from individuals and not corporations or governments to maintain our independence. Your help is crucial.

Help us stop China's water crisis.