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Youths pioneer river scheme

WATER is a daily necessity for most people, but it is a constant companion to primary school student Sun Yao in southwest China's Sichuan Province.

He has lived alongside Baicao River, a tributary of the Yangtze River, the largest river in China, for more than 12 years.

At the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, the Baicao River provides drinking water to the 6,600 inhabitants of Pian°?kou Town, Beichuan County. But the river has seen a drastic change over the past two decades.

In the 1980s, it was "so clear that you could see to the bottom," recalls Zeng Wenjun, a town resident in his forties. "The qingbo (clean water) fish found only here were unparalleled in taste. But they are now extinct."

Sun was concerned about the foul-smelling "rubbish mountains" along the 10-kilometer river. The 1,000-plus towns along the upper reaches of the Yangtze River pump its tributaries with waste, causing a huge environmental problem at the Three Gorges Dam, says Fu Zhiping, a professor of ecology with Mianyang Normal University in Sichuan.

The Yangtze River system produces 40 percent of the nation's grain, a third of its cotton, 48 percent of its freshwater fish and 40 percent of the total industrial output value. However, it is also a depository for 60 percent of the country's pollution, making it the single largest source of pollution in the Pacific Ocean, according to the Shangri-la Institute for Sustainable Communities, a Chinese non-governmental organization.

In the spring of 2008, both Sun and Fu took part in the Water School for a Living Yangtze River under the International Water School Program.

The Chinese program engaged more than 50,000 students from 27 middle and primary schools in Si°?chuan and adjacent provinces, as well as Shanghai, where the Yangtze River meets the East China Sea.

Sun and his classmates tested water quality. Results confirmed Sun's concerns: the PH index stands at 5.8 at the lower reaches of Baicao River, showing that the water has already been polluted to an alarming extent.

Sun and his classmates proposed a new rubbish-disposal system to the local government. To their surprise, the town government approved their proposal, and a sewage treatment plant based on the scientific principles of a biological wetland is also now under discussion.

"The (Water School) project provides a platform for effective environmental protection around the branches of Yangtze River, and it is a model for shifting away from the exam-focused educational system," said Fu.

A similar environmental project is planned for the Yellow River.


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