With the 90% coverage of the earth’s surface, water is an essential commodity, vital to the existence of the human race. However, this commodity has been affected by human activities such as farming and industrial productions. The world’s human population stands at over seven billion, and it grows at a fast rate. Such a high number of people and other living organisms on the planet has put pressure on the water bodies available. Over the years, water pollution has been a growing concern for many countries across the world, many of which have responded in varying ways. The excessive use of agricultural chemicals in farms and the release of untreated effluence from manufacturing industries into rivers, oceans, and lakes are the main contributors to water pollution. This affects the quality of water and leads to many deaths. Governments of many countries have applied efforts in the form of laws and policies to mitigate this threat to human existence. Furthermore, water pollution has attracted the attention of individuals who have formed environmental movements. Japan, for example, has had to deal with the issues of water pollution since the Meiji period (1868-1912), when the Japanese people were poisoned by effluence from the Ashio Copper Mine. The reconstruction drive in Japan after World War II provided a paradigm shift for a greater focus on pollution. This shift came at the wake of numerous ecological disasters in the 1950s, notably the Minamata disease, occasioned by mercury poisoning in southwestern Kyushu. In China, about 50% of rivers are grossly polluted and unfit for human contact, and 8 out of 10 big cities have faulty sewage systems, draining excessive pollutants into water masses, which poses a great danger to half of the population. China’s rural areas have no facilities to manage and treat waste water. Environmental movements have emerged in these two countries to check on environmental issues, caused by both government and private enterprises and projects.

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Introduction

Water pollution is the introduction of harmful substances into seas, oceans, rivers, or bays. The excessive use of agricultural chemicals in farms and the release of untreated effluence from manufacturing industries into rivers, oceans, and lakes lead to water pollution. This affects the quality of water and causes numerous deaths. Over the years, water pollution has been a growing concern for many countries across the world, which has prompted governments to put appropriate legislations and policies to mitigate this threat to human existence. Furthermore, water pollution has attracted the attention of individuals who have formed environmental movements. These movements have emerged as a response to environmental issues. caused by both government and private enterprises and projects. The state of water pollution in China and Japans as well as the environmental movements in these two countries are the focus of this paper.

Status of Water Pollution in China

The World Bank has repeatedly warned China of dire consequences in the future due to rampant water pollution. Untreated industrial waste and sewage are released into China’s water bodies daily. Moreover, most cities in China have very poor drainage systems, with little or no efforts to build sewage treatment facilities. Thus, 278 municipalities in China have contaminated water supplies, coupled with a large urban population of over five million (Minerva Center for Movement Ecology 2013). Half of this huge population does not have an adequate supply of clean water, especially the 500 million people, living in the rural areas and using contaminated water.

A government study, conducted several years ago, found that about half of rivers in China were grossly polluted and unfit for human contact, and that 8 out of 10 cities had faulty sewage systems, draining excessive pollutants into water masses, which posed and great danger to half of the population (Gudorf and Huchingson 2010). China’s rural areas have no facilities in place to manage and treat waste water. The coastal manufacturing belt is hit by water pollution most of all despite government closure of chemical factories, breweries, paper mills, and other probable cradles of adulteration. These levels of pollution have contributed to the fall of the water quality along the waterway.

China is the worst performing country globally in terms of managing the use of water in agricultural farms, household, and industrial use. However, pollution affects also underground water. Chinese people faces danger from algae blooms that have made water surface unnaturally green. The main contributors of water pollution, according to government report, are farm applications, such as fertilizers, and they pollute water even more than factory wastes. The China Agency for Environmental Protection conducted study in 2010 and found that agricultural activities were the main contributors of water pollution. The northern part of China bears greater risk than the southern part of the country. Thus, 45% of rivers and other water sources in northern China are adulterated while the number of those of southern China stands at 10% (Rigling Gallagher 2012). Out of the estimated 1.3 billion Chinese people, 980 million people drink water contaminated by animal, human waste, and radiation (Sternfeld 2017). High levels of sulfates, arsenic, and fluorine have been discovered in water. These pollutants have led to many cases of esophageal, liver, and stomach cancers among people in China.

Status of Water Pollution in Japan

Water pollution in Japan has increasingly become a serious issue since 1868, when the Japanese people were poisoned by effluence from a Copper mine, discharged into the Watarase River. Since then, Japan has fought with pollution challenges, compounded by the countrt’s industrialization growth. The reconstruction drive in Japan after World War II provided a paradigm shift for a greater focus on pollution (Sternfeld 2017). This shift came after numerous ecological disasters in the 1950s, notably the Minamata disease. The Kyushu pandemic prompted local authorities to draft their own regulations on water pollution. Moreover, water pollution in Japan became even more serious in the 1960s due to the country’s increasing economic growth as the country experienced several disasters. In 1967, the government established and enforced the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control Law and a similar one in 1970 (Viessman 2014). The Japanese parliament integrated the Water Quality Control Law and the Industrial Effluent Control Law into one bound law, the Water Pollution Control Law.

The government of Japan enacted the law concerning special measures against dioxins in 1998, after the emissions of the substance became a paramount issue. The dioxins released from incinerators prompted further action from the legislature that moved swiftly to enact further laws and policies, including the 1999 environmental quality control standards. However, the levels of water pollution in Japan have failed to change significantly mostly in closed masses like lakes and seas. The slow response of pollution to laws and measures forced the government of Japan to review the corresponding laws, which led to the revision of the Water Pollution Control Law in an attempt to avert the contamination of the water table and pollution from sewerage (Schirmer, Hoehn, and Vogt 2011). Over time, efforts have been made with regards to human health, following the enactment of Environmental Quality Standards (EQS). This law was aimed at preventing the nitrification and eutrophication public waters, coastal, and sea areas. EQS was further amended in 1996 to cover the cleanup of polluted underground water.

By 2002, the Japanese people had become more aware of the adverse effects of water pollution and started pushing for stronger measures, especially to curb the ever-increasing soil pollution. The public’s attitude towards pollution pushed the government to engage a strategic plan to combat the issue. Subsequently, the office of the Prime Minister and the cabinet set a new course of action in February 2002 – the Soil Control Law that was passed later in May the same year, but only until February 2003, this law became fully become effective (Gudorf and Huchingson 2010). Japan’s long battle with pollution was recognized in 2004, when an Environment Agency was established.

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Environmental Movement in Japan

Environmental movement in Japan gained momentum in the 1970s, when the effects of industrialization became quite notorious and adverse. The attitude of the public towards pollution changed, and people became more and more conscious of the problem. The Ecological Society of Japan (ESJ) was founded in 1953 with the primary aim of ecological research. Over time, this society engaged in a number of activities pertaining the protection of the environment. The society partnered with international groups in addressing environmental issues such as climate change and loss of biodiversity. ESJ has contributed greatly not only to finding solutions to environmental issues but also to the preservation of natural ecosystems, the reclamation of destroyed ecosystems, and ecological science in East Asia.

Environmentalism became a strong political force in Japan as more agencies joined the mass movement typical of that of the United States. Japanese environmentalism was prompted by the increasing cost of industrialization as its drawbacks began to overweigh the benefits. The Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP) is another environmental movement in Japan, founded in 2000 by a group of climate change crusaders and experts. The organization has been able to provide services and materials towards the realization of sustainable energy policies. ISEP has been at the forefront of struggle, pushing the Japanese government to adopt clean renewable energy, restructuring energy market, and improve energy efficiency. ISEP also offers advice to the local authorities on environmental issues as well as provides updated information on sustainable energy.

Unlike the Chinese and the US environmental movements, which were rather hierarchical, Japanese movements were non-bureaucratic but democratic and grassroot-based. These movements were driven mostly by the victims of pollution effects of the 1960s and the 1970s, supported by anti-pollution movement keen to preserve natural and safe environment for human beings. The issues, pushed by early environmentalists in Japan, included the improvement of people’s daily lives and health, especially of those, living in the areas prone to toxic wastes. At this time, the movements had little emphasis on global or wilderness protection issues. As the effects of water pollution became more serious, environmentalism in Japan grew and drew sympathizers from the larger community and not only victims of pollution as before. However, environmentalists faced a difficult task of mobilizing support from the public, especially in court-related issues since most Japanese people believed that the growing industrial activities were aimed at economic growth. Nevertheless, the movements achieved notable victories in court which later resulted in the enactment of significant pollution-related laws which went a long way in enhancing government policies in the 1970s. Japanese movements has some characteristics in common with the environmental movements in China.

Environmental movements’ concerns in both China and Japan were focused at maintaining and enhancing individuals’ health and well-being besides helping victims cope with the sociological and physical effects of pollution. Furthermore, the participants of these movements were drawn from the ordinary people. In the 1980s and 1990s, environmental movements in Japan expanded, targeting ecological issues globally and becoming more anti-development movements. Their counterparts in China also shifted their focus to world environmental issues at this time. In the 1980s, the Japanese middle class became less worried by environmental issues, and many of them took an ecological and spiritual perspective on pollution. The successful middle-class migrated to less polluted and more natural areas and adopted ‘peaceful’, ‘silent’ way of life. Thus, environmental movement became a concern for the urban-middle class with some basic education since these people were direct recipients of most of industrial effluence.

Environmental movements in Japan resurged with the modernization in the country (Avenell 2017). The more the economic status of Japan grew, the more these movements accelerated. Nowadays, there is a new trend in environmentalism in Japan, where more celebrities, who have kept a low profile earlier, now comment on environmental issues and become involved more in the cause by performing at environmental events. The celebrities have collaborated with non-governmental organizations; for instance, an NGO, composed of Japanese music figures like Sakamoto Ryuichi, is at the forefront in campaigns against water pollution in Japan. The “ap bank” provides financial support for environmental activities. Famous athletes in Japan have also participated in this movement through various NGOs. These NGOs and celebrities serve to increase public awareness and attract public attention to environmental issues. Thus, Greenpeace Japan, an NGO, for example, conducts newspaper and television activities, focused on environmental issues in an attempt to sensitize the public on the issue. Greenpeace`s activities are not aimed at pointing at polluting companies or confronting them but to make the public aware of their negative activities. A classic example of Greenpeace’s efforts is that of Panasonic refrigerator, which has greatly affected their sales volume.

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Environmental Movement in China

China has history of suppressing movements that are perceived to be a threat to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). For instance, the Falun Gong was persecuted in 1999, preceded by the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989. Despite pressure from the Transnational Advocacy (TAN), the Chinese ruling party has continuously conducted a crackdown against social movements even at the current times, with latest victim being the Tibet and Xinjiang. Nevertheless, environmentalism in China has occupied a more important place in the country as compared to religious and pro-democracy movements. Aside from the hard stance that the government has adopted against social movements, it in the early 1990s, it encouraged its citizens to work together with NGOs in environmental protection. This move was in line with the UN Rio Declaration of 1992 that sought to implement Agenda 21 – a national action plan from the conference. Since then, the authoritarian CCP government has had to accommodate the environmental movements. Chinese movements have often been prompted by the wrongdoings of various corporations that violated environmental policies (Rigling Gallagher 2012). These movements have provided a platform for the Chinese middle classes to engage in environmental activities and exercise their rights.

However, local authorities always find a way to persecute environmentalists. In the recent past, activists have demanded the central government to intervene since the local authorities are reluctant and suspicious of environmental movements. The situation is further complicated for environmentalists when dealing with pollution issues, emanating from state-owned enterprises (SOEs) or infrastructural projects, built by the state. For instance, the Three Gorges hydropower dam generated great concern in the 1980s, where environmental activists pointed to environmental hazards, associated with the dam. China has an ambitious plan to triple it power output by 2020, planning to invest more in renewable energy (Lerner and Lerner 2008). The government plans to build more and more dams to meet the growing demands for electricity, which often results in the displacement of people. The Three Gorges hydropower dam alone displaced 1.4 million people in 2006. The aftermath of this dam’s construction have given rise to numerous anti-dam activism from both local movements and international organizations. The planned Three Gorges dam in the 1980s attracted the attention of the international coalition of environmental groups, including the Probe International, Amnesty International, and the International Rivers. These bodies intensified pressure against the construction of the dam by petitioning the outside sponsors of the project. Their efforts achieved the set goal when the World Bank bowed to pressure and withdrew its funds to the dam project. Further, The Bureau of Reclamation, the Export-Import Bank withdrew from the project as well. Despite all this pressure, the Chinese government continued the construction of the dam, using loan funds from the Dai Qing and the Asian Development Bank. Environmental activism against the dam saw the jailing of a journalist in 1989 for publishing an article, detailing the adverse effects of the planned dam.

Non-governmental organizations in China have continued to play an active role in campaigning against projects, perceived to be negative to the environment and people. The Nu River hydropower dam in Yunnan is a classic example of further involvement of environmental activists. The project involved the construction of 13 dams at the center of the Pristine River to generate 21.3 GW of hydropower, but the construction of the dams would displace approximately 60,000 people (Sternfeld 2017). Local activists partnered with international NGOs, local Chinese environmental ministry, and victims of the project locally and abroad. These groups used the internet, international venues, and various media outlets to collect signatures globally to petition the government against the dam.

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Compariso n of Japanese and Chinese Environmental Movements

In China, environmental activism still develops, as compared to that of Japan, where it has become more established and widespread. Chinese movements are also unorganized, involving small non-governmental organizations, working at the grassroots level. The movements in China also involve university students, the media, and journalists. In Japan, on the other hand, women are at the forefront in environmental activism, and most of them are good resource managers. Unlike China, where activism is based mostly on the economic status of people, Japanese movements are based on people’s health. The Japanese government is flexible and it responds to its peoples’ concerns about the environment, a virtue that the Chinese government lacks. For instance, the Japanese government has enacted a number of reform policies, including the Nature Conservation Law, Industrial Pollution, Pollution Control Office, and the Special Standing Committees on Industrial Pollution. Furthermore, the government of Japan has increased budgetary allocations to environmental issues.

Conclusion

Over the years, water pollution has been a growing concern for many countries across the world, many of which have responded in varying ways. The excessive use of agricultural chemicals in farms and the release of untreated effluence from manufacturing industries into rivers, oceans, and lakes are the main contributors of water pollution. Governments of many countries of the world have applied efforts to mitigate the threat of water pollution to human existence. Water pollution has also attracted the attention of individuals who formed environmental movements, such as the Ecological Society of Japan (ESJ) that was founded in 1953 with the primary aim of ecological research, and the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP), founded in 2000 by a group of climate change crusaders and experts.

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