Although it has become all too common to see trash floating in Taiwan's rivers, dead bodies are not such a common occurrence. However, news of a corpse floating nearby was exactly what greeted city officials during an inspection of Taipei's waterways.
While Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) headed a team taken by boat yesterday to check pollution levels in the Keelung River (基隆河), workers engaged in a clean-up operation found a body floating nearby.
Reacting to the incident, Ma demanded that police launch an investigation, while at the same time drawing attention away from the discovery to promote the original purpose of the trip -- to show achievements made by the city government in the field of water treatment.
PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES
Ma dipped a plastic cup into the water, held it up to his nose, and told reporters: "It smells much better than it used to!"
Six months ago, during an investigation of the same stretch of water, Ma made his dissatisfaction with the pollution known.
The poor quality of the Tamshui River (淡水河) and its tributary, the Keelung River, has hampered the launch of a project meant to turn the downstream She-tzu Islet (社子島), a sandbar covering 300 hectares of land at the junction of the two rivers, into a sightseeing destination.
As part of the Environmental Protection Administration's (EPA) Tamshui River pollution treatment project, the Taipei City government began to remove debris from the river's surface in 1998.
According to statistics, workers had to remove 600 tonnes of waste between the Huachiang Bridge (華江橋) and the Kuantu Bridge (關渡橋) every year.
To more efficiently block water-borne garbage, the city adopted a creative method, using securing nets hung in the current, fastened by way of thick ropes. The project was also expanded to include the Keelung River last November.
During the field investigation yesterday, officials from the Taipei City government and the EPA admitted that the nets had been a big help.
"In addition to removing nine scooters, two cars, and more than 100 tonnes of other waste from the river, our workers also saved one person from drowning after trying to commit suicide," said Stephen Shen (沈世宏), director of the city's Bureau of Environmental Protection.
Shen said the main source of floating garbage was five decommissioned municipal landfills along the river, in addition to the public's use of the waterways as a dumping site for discarded furniture.
"The situation gets even worse during the rainy season," according to Shen, "but at least two tonnes of garbage can be removed every day," he said.
Representatives from Tung-I Waste Handling Corp (
Yeh Mu-tung (葉木通), a company spokesperson, said flourishing wildlife was evidence of the success so far. "The river is treatable," Yeh said, "we see mullets and milk fish again."
As for the sight of bodies floating in the rivers, Yeh said it was not that uncommon, adding that about ten cadavers are discovered every year.
Mayor Ma, meanwhile, said more energy needs to be spent on efficient pollution prevention strategies, such as building more sewerage pipes to take waste directly from residential areas to waste treatment plants.
"We cannot develop water tourism until the river smells normal," the mayor said.
EPA officials said that a NT$47 billion budget for building a sewage treatment network had been passed, adding that around 6.5 million people living in northern Taiwan would benefit from the investment.
"The EPA encourages riverside community dwellers to maintain their own environment," said Roan Gwo-dong (阮國棟), director-general of EPA's Bureau of Water Quality Protection. "NT$5 million every year is allocated to finance water clean-up competitions," he said.
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