China says water pollution so severe that cities could lack safe supplies
China's booming economy is driving a rapid rise in water pollution so severe that densely crowded cities could be left without adequate supplies, a Cabinet minister said Tuesday.
``Limited water resources are threatened by pollution, and water safety in cities is facing severe challenges,'' said Qiu Baoxing, deputy minister of construction.
The unusually blunt warning came after a separate government report last week said Chinese cities are threatened by rising levels of acid rain from industrial pollution.
The reports emphasize the high environmental cost of China's surging economy in a dry, crowded country whose ecology already is strained by the demands of sustaining 1.3 billion inhabitants.
The government has tried in recent years to rein in environmental damage, imposing air- and water-quality standards and restricting logging. But such efforts have had only limited success.
More than 100 of China's 660 cities face ``extreme water shortages,'' Qiu said at a news conference.
Intense demand by booming Chinese industries, farms and sprawling cities _ some of them with more than 10 million people - has left many areas without adequate water supplies.
China supports 21 percent of the world's population with just 7 percent of its water supplies, Qiu said.
Conflicts over water supplies have led to violent clashes.
In April, scores of people were injured in the eastern province of Zhejiang when police clashed with villagers who occupied an industrial complex that they said ruined their crops by polluting water supplies.
The communist government has tried in recent years to rein in environmental damage, banning the clear-cutting of forests, imposing air-quality standards and forcing paper mills and other heavily polluting industries to close.
Premier Wen Jiabao promised in February to make guaranteeing adequate supplies of clean drinking water a priority in his annual report to China's legislature on government plans for the year.
``This is an urgent matter,'' Qiu said.
The minister called for local governments to step up enforcement of water quality standards, promote conservation and expand use of alternative sources such as rainwater and recycled sewage.
But he didn't say how Beijing would finance these steps, leaving it unclear how many would be carried out.
Water shortages have been a constant worry for China for centuries. Problems have only worsened in recent decades as the population swelled and largely unregulated factories dumped toxic pollutants into rivers and lakes.
Some 90 percent of China's cities and 75 percent of its lakes suffer from some degree of water pollution, Qiu said.
The government is building a US$60 billion (euro50 billion) network of canals meant to move vast amounts of water from China's wetter south to Beijing and other parts of the arid north.
The government says building the South-North Water Diversion could take 60 years.
China will face growing shortages until 2030, when its population is projected to reach 1.6 billion people, Qiu said.
``According to the UN definition, at that time we will belong to countries that lack water,'' he said.