Primary school students wait to collect rationed water in drought-hit Reshui town, Xuanwei, Yunnan province, on Tuesday. Lin Yiguang / xinhua
BEIJING - A project to provide safe water to millions of rural residents has fallen short of its goals, shows an audit released on Wednesday.
Carried out in rural areas since 2006, the project aimed to provide clean drinking water for 7.8 million people but by the end of 2008 had still left more than 1.2 million people high and dry.
The audit, by the National Audit Office (NAO), covered 103 counties in 19 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.
Xu Jiming, a senior NAO official, said the management of the project was mostly done according to the rules.
"The project has basically reached the target and benefited farmers," he said.
According to statistics from water administration departments, the safe-water project improved sanitation in rural areas, decreased water-borne infection, saved about 200 yuan ($30) per household in medical expenses and saved an average 53 work days in carrying water per household.
"However, problems still exist. In some places, the local government did not carry out the project according to the plan, or did not allocate funds in a timely fashion," Xu said.
Money for the project came from the central and local governments, and farmers.
The central government allocated more than 1.9 billion yuan ($282 million) to local governments, and 94 percent was put into the project on time, said the NAO announcement.
On the other hand, 83 of the 103 counties did not allocate supporting local government funds on time. A total 546 million yuan was put to projects by local governments, accounting for only 56 percent of the planned supporting fund.
Some local governments even required farmers to pay more to cover the funding gap, the NAO said.
The NAO also said a spot check shows 35 percent of the examined middle schools could not offer safe water up to national standards.
Xu said the problems uncovered in the audit are receiving attention from departments such as the Ministry of Water Resources, the National Development and Reform Commission and local governments.
"Earnest and timely corrective and remedial measures have been taken to solve the problems," he said.
China plans to provide all its rural residents with safe water by 2015.
By early 2008, more than 250 million Chinese villagers were facing unsafe water contaminated by fluorine, arsenic, high levels of salt or other organic or industrial pollutants, according to a Xinhua News Agency report.
(China Daily 03/25/2010 page3)