Erhai Lake in Dali, China, is one of the country’s most beautiful lakes, and has long been a top tourist attraction as well. However, the lake is also the receptacle of runoff from pesticides from nearby farms, and sewage from local restaurants and hotels also end up in it, causing massive pollution to the lake.
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived at Erhai Lake in 2015 with the purpose of cleaning it up. He said, while posing for photos at the lake, “We should treat the environment in the same way as one treats his own life.” The President added that in a few years he would come back and hoped to find that the lake was clean, otherwise he would hold the local officials accountable.
The pollution of China’s water, land and air is widely known to be one of nation’s biggest problems, and yet, efforts to remedy this problem have at times meant other problems arise.
This is the case in Erhai Lake, where the lake itself is a big part of people’s livelihoods, and yet efforts to clean it up has caused serious problems for those who live there.
President Xi’s push for an “ecological civilization” to make China more sustainable and definitely greener, has taken a toll on some of its citizens.
The government has poured billions of dollars onto rehabilitating Erhai Lake, but this initiative has all but caused a standstill to tourism. Hotels and restaurants, needing to wait for environmental permits, have closed temporarily. A developer from Guangdong invested a million dollars into a lakeside hotel, but was told by the government that he cannot run operations yet.
The biggest contributor to the pollution in Erhai Lake has been pesticides. Farmers in nearby areas have made a decent wages planting and growing garlic for many years. However, the phosphorus and nitrogen in the fertilizer, which ends up in the lake, has stimulated the growth of algae and various plants, to the detriment of other aquatic life forms.
To solve this problem, the government has limited the planting of garlic and offered to give subsidies to the farmers in lieu of income loss.
Unfortunately, the subsidies given are a far cry from the profits farmer made growing and selling garlic. One of the farmers, Sun Younian, told the WorldPost, “My land had a good yield, actually. If it was not taken by the government, the profit I would earn from just growing garlic, excluding rice, would be 10,000 to 15,000 yuan [about $1,600-$2,400]. They took my land and gave me only 2,000 yuan per year.”
Despite complaints from several farmers, nothing was done to increase the their subsidies. This has caused some farmers to grow desperate, fearing starvation for their families should the situation remain the same in the next few years.