Protecting the Yangtze — which irrigates an area responsible for 45 percent of the country’s GDP — is now a priority, with President Xi Jinping calling for an end to “destructive” development along it.
But impatient citizens, like Huo, whose father was an award-winning environmental reporter who first highlighted the issue in the 1990s, have already taken action.
His prototype water filters were created before authorities even publicly disclosed the existence of more than 250 “cancer villages” in 2013 — mostly in the Yangtze river basin, including the provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu and Henan, where Shenqiu is located.
Death rates from stomach, esophagus or liver cancer in these places were two or three times the national average, according to the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which linked the increases to water pollution.
Huo has installed more than 50 filters and offered safe drinking water to some 100,000 families.
“Before we installed the filters, a few villagers who could afford it were spending nearly 14 yuan (2 dollars) a day to buy bottled water,” said Huo.
“The others were still drinking the discolored, smelly river water,” he added.