Amid criticism of his government’s handling of a water contamination crisis the Chinese prime minister has visited the region affected. Wen Jiabao told the people of Harbin they would soon have “safe drinking water”. The north-eastern city is the largest population centre threatened by the spill of toxic chemicals into the Songhua river which runs through it. Tonnes of cancer-causing Benzene and other substances were discharged into the river after an explosion at a petrochemical plant upstream.Residents have endured four days without running water. They have now been told the danger will soon be over and that the supply will be turned on again. Chinese authorities have come under criticism for their response to the spillage, including complaints they have given little information to Russia which is also threatened by the slick.
Wen has promised a drive to clean up China’s environment. Some 70 percent of the country’s rivers are said to be polluted – a consequence of rapid industrial growth. But the government insists it must continue to support economic development and environmentalists fear this will not be China’s last ecological crisis.