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Clean water needs urgent than ever
By Wu Chong (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-11 01:54

As Premier Wen Jiabao promised "clean water for the people" receiving thunderous applause from National People's Congress (NPC) deputies, one-third of China's rural population remained without access to safe drinking water.

Villagers celebrate the arrival of tap water at a ceremony marking the launch of a clean water project in Changrong Village, Wangqing County of Jilin Province. The government has put ensuring safe drinking water at the top of its agenda. [newsphoto]
On Saturday, Wen said in his work report the government will concentrate on providing clean water for everyone.

To help address the problem, the State has earmarked 2 billion yuan (US$242 million) this year, 200 million yuan (US$24 million) more than last year, an official at the Ministry of Water Resources revealed.

The fund will be used to seek out quality water sources and enforce water purification, said Zhao Leshi, a division chief of the ministry's rural water resource department.

In rural areas, the problems of contaminated water, seasonal water shortages, inconvenience in fetching water and deficient water supplies all need to be solved.

"The foremost threat nowadays lies in bad water quality," said Zhao.

Rural drinking water is now being polluted with industrial and agricultural pollutants, such as arsenic and fluorine at levels that exceed safe State standards.

Legislators and international advisers are deeply concerned, and put forward more ideas for sustaining the development of China's limited water resources at the NPC.

NPC deputies Sun Xiaoshan and Fu Qionghua from East China's Jiangxi Province both suggested the country establish a rural drinking water fund by collecting additional small fees from urban water consumption.

If each ton of water cost 0.2 yuan (2.4 US cents) more in the province's cities, each person would pay only an estimated 1.8 yuan (22 US cents) more a month, at most, Fu said in her proposal.

Given the growth rate of Jiangxi's gross domestic product, the small fees levied on water both for civic and industrial use would be translated into a fund of 1.8 billion yuan (US$218 million) between 2005 and 2020, said Fu, also an engineer at the local water science academy.

"It is an international practice for the central government to finance the bulk of the input to rural water resources. But China's subsidies in the agriculture industry are far less than what they should be," she said.

"The fund will be a flexible supplement, while not burdening urban people too much."

Christoph Peisert, a German water conservation expert who has worked in China for 16 years, gave Fu's idea the thumbs-up.

But he pointed out that it must be shown that the fund is used exclusively for water protection activities.

"Basically, China's water problem is a problem of water management," noted Peisert, who is engaged in a Sino-German watershed management project in Beijing.

He said the success of water resource management projects should not be judged by the size of financial investment alone.

They should be evaluated on the basis of their ability to sustain economically-sound systems of water protection, he said.

The German believes that in the future some carefully selected and well-trained farmers should be given support to become foresters, instead of making their money from low-wage water polluting activities or part-time construction work.

He also said that every means should be adopted to reduce water wastage.

Lawmaker Yuan Hanmin from Gansu Province agreed with his proposals and called for the creation of a water-saving society.

"The water supply system should be changed. Extra charges should be placed on additional water use," said Yuan.

He said that water supply facilities must be upgraded soon in rural places to improve efficiency.

Currently only 40 per cent of the water from reservoirs arrives at its destination.

Unsafe drinking water is also becoming a threat to cities, where a huge sum is spent annually to purify polluted water.

In 2003, the country disposed of 64 billion tons of sewage. Only 28 per cent of the 46 key cities surveyed that year had access to good-quality drinking water.

In Jiaxing, a city in Zhejiang Province intersected by waterways, 70 per cent of the water in its rivers was found to be of low quality, according to its mayor Chen Derong.

Lying downstream of Suzhou and Hangzhou - two big cities with fast economic development - Jiaxing has suffered from extensive water pollution in the last two decades.

(China Daily 03/11/2005 page3)

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