A section of Suzhou Creek in Shanghai in 2017 after cleaning and greening. GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY
Shanghai’s rehabilitation of the Suzhou Creek is a project the rest of the world can learn from
Editor’s note: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of New China and the liberation of Shanghai. China Daily Global Weekly is running a special series of stories to commemorate the liberation of Shanghai on May 27, 1949, and revisit the feats accomplished by the city since that fateful day.
Shanghai’s efforts to rehabilitate the Suzhou Creek over the past 25 years were lauded in a report released during the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, last month.
The comprehensive cleanup project for the 125-kilometer-long Suzhou Creek, which has been ongoing since 1993, is something the world can emulate to tackle polluted water rehabilitation, said the report jointly published by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and Shanghai-based Tongji University.
According to official figures, more than half of the world’s 500 biggest rivers are severely depleted or polluted.
Xu Zuxin, a professor from the College of Environmental Science and Engineering at Tongji University, said the success of this project, which involves cleaning up the more than 2,000 riverways across 10 districts in the city, can be attributed to the coordination between government agencies, scientific experts, the public, and the application of innovative science and technology.
“The Suzhou Creek occupies a significant geographical location in Shanghai as it traversed the city’s entire downtown area before the development of Pudong New District in 1992. Today, it traverses almost the entire Puxi area,” said Xu, adding that up to the early 1990s, people on both sides of the creek had to cover their noses because of the stench it emitted.
Li Jian, a researcher at the Institute of Urban and Demography Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said that while many major cities around the world have beautiful rivers, such as the Thames in London and the Seine in Paris, Shanghai has two: the Huangpu River and the Suzhou Creek.
As such, the maintenance of these water bodies is integral to creating a pleasant environment that reflects Shanghai in a good light, especially as it aims to become a global hub for economy, finance, trading, shipping and scientific innovation.
“The rehabilitation and preservation of the two river bodies is a reflection of the city’s great achievements in the continuous improvement to environmental protection measures since the liberation of Shanghai and the founding of the People’s Republic of China seven decades ago,” Li said.
Li said that a clean river also means a comfortable and pleasant living environment, which helps attract and retain talent.
“Shanghai’s growing attractiveness to international talent over the years is a testimony of the city’s environmental protection efforts, including the drastic transformation of the Suzhou Creek,” he said.
The water quality of the Suzhou Creek — named as such because people used to travel on it to reach nearby Suzhou city, Jiangsu province — was clear until the 1920s when industrialization resulted in domestic sewage and industrial waste water being discharged into it.
By 1930, the creek was no longer suitable as a source for tap water. By 1970, the pollution had tainted the entire river.
The first step in the city’s rehabilitation measures was the construction of a wastewater treatment plant. This collected domestic and industrial wastewater within urban areas and transferred it elsewhere for treatment. The plant became operational in 1993, collecting around 1.4 million cubic meters of sewage every day.
The government later spent about $1 billion on the development of technologies to upgrade the capabilities of its sewage management system. In 2002, the authorities managed to eliminate the issue of odorous black water, a phenomenon in which the river water becomes black and emits odorous gases due to dry weather conditions.
The next project was to continuously improve the water quality. Some 4.5 billion yuan ($670 million) was devoted to these objectives.
By 2008, thanks to the holistic measures taken to improve the river conditions, the Suzhou Creek aquatic ecosystem was restored.
The creek has taken on an entirely new look in recent years. Its waterfront areas are now a popular destination for jogging, sun-tanning and picnics. The treatment plants of the past have also made way for riverside parks and new high-rise buildings.
China has identified environmental protection as a national strategy, and it began introducing the river chief system in some regions in late 2016. The following year, nearly 8,000 river chiefs in Shanghai were appointed.
（Source: China Daily）