Harbin Business Exchange in Brief
A Weekly Email Update . . . November 26, 2005


Excerpts from Special Report

"The water may not be as toxic as it reaches Harbin, but as a precaution, the city shut down the water supply and is meeting current needs with 100 new wells (producing 21 million gallons of water per day) and increased supplies of bottled water."

"Outside of using alternative sources of water, life in Harbin is quite normal. The water supply is expected to be back to normal any time, since the affected water is pretty much passed Harbin."

"Water quality is monitored on a regular basis. Once the pollutant and the source were recognized, Harbin was advised of the danger. Harbin officials took swift corrective action by warning the public, shutting off all the water provided from the Songhua River, and arranging other means to insure adequate water to affected areas."

"Those of us planning businesses in China, especially our water dependent restaurant, should be encouraged by the handling of this completely unforeseeable and potentially disastrous situation."


SPECIAL REPORT:
From: Larry P. Horist

Industrial accident in Jilin causes shutdown of Harbin water system. Now for the good new.

Jill is currently in China. You may have read about the temporary shut down of the municipal water due to an industrial accident upstream that poured benzene into the Songhua River Benzene polluted the river more than 100 kilometers away. The contamination flows past Harbin, then into Russia before disbursing in the sea. The water may not be as toxic as it reaches Harbin, but as a precaution, the city shut down the water supply and is meeting current needs with 100 new wells (producing 21 million gallons of water per day) and increased supplies of bottled water. They also fixed the price of beverages so that there would be no price gouging, and set up water stations where poorer residents can obtain free water.

Jill’s report is not quite as dramatic as the newspaper reports, as you might suspect. Outside of using alternative sources of water, life in Harbin is quite normal. The water supply is expected to be back to normal any time, since the affected water is pretty much passed Harbin.

The American press makes it sound like the officials were slow to move. According to Jill, who was in discussions with senior Harbin officials at that time, that is far from reality. Water quality is monitored on a regular basis. Once the pollutant and the source were recognized, Harbin was advised of the danger. Harbin officials took swift corrective action by warning the public, shutting off all the water provided from the Songhua River, and arranging other means to insure adequate water to affected areas. It is a much different response than was seen by city officials in New Orleans, who had no other plan but to tell residents at the last moment to flee the city on their own as Hurricane Katrina approached.

When the first announcement was made in Harbin, Jill considered leaving for home. However, it was quickly determined that the hardship would not be extensive, and life is pretty normal for her – if you consider staying at a friend’s penthouse with a live-in house keeper and cook – and a chauffeur at her disposal – normal.

Jill reports that the greatest problem was the need to flush toilets with buckets, and then only after a reasonable number of uses – and please do not ask me to expound on the definition of reasonable. Many public places had bathroom attendants providing the flushing services “as needed.”

While Americans too often think of China as some backward secretive nation, with little concern for its citizens, I think the Chinese government responded to the potential water crises is an example of quickly, open and effectively response. The fact that they could produce 21 million gallons of additional water each day on short notice, and create the necessary distribution system so quickly, is impressive.

Those of us planning businesses in China, especially our water dependent restaurant, should be encouraged by the handling of this completely unforeseeable and potentially disastrous situation.

On the lighter side, rumors tend to abound in China, and Jill reports that the current urban myth is that the pollutant in the water will take away inhibitions, and upon drinking the water, people would act out there innermost fantasies and secret thoughts. If that is the case, I may be heading to Harbin sooner than expected.


 

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