More than half of the population is living in an environment where sewage is not treated, an expert said.
By the end of 2005, 278 cities across the country had no sewage treatment facilities, including eight with a population of more than 500,000, Zhao Baojiang, chairman of the China association of city planning, told a recent conference on sustainable sanitation held in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
About 5,000 administrative towns and 20,000 market towns also had no sewage treatment facilities, he was quoted as saying by www.xinhuanet.com.
Water pollution is deteriorating, but orders of the State Environmental Protection Administration to reduce the pollution are being disregarded in some cities, Zhao said.
Zhengzhou-based Henan Business Daily reported yesterday that five cities in Henan Province have still to shut down heavily polluting companies.
The five cities are Kaifeng, Xinxiang, Zhumadian, Xinyuan and Jiyuan.
The province's deputy governor Zhang Dawei is reported to be furious about the five cities' malfeasance.
He criticized the cities at a conference focusing on water pollution.
He said what polluting companies were doing was tantamount to "killing people directly".
According to his report, nearly 30 percent of Henan's rivers "smell and are muddy". Chemical and pharmacy companies are believed to be the major polluters.
To improve the situation, the provincial environmental protection bureau has asked local governments not to approve new projects along polluted rivers in the province.
The bureau planned to close 150 heavily polluting companies by the end of this year.
So far, 32 companies have been closed. The rest, including thermal power plants and cement factories, are still operating.
About 61 county-level sewage treatment plants out of the total 89 plants have problems that affect operations, including incompatible pipeline networks and seriously damaged facilities.
In order to reduce water pollution, the provincial government has asked all 18 cities to take measures and ensure at least half of its surface water meets the required standard before the year-end.
"If any city fails to fulfill the environmental goal, its mayor must make an apology in front of all the people," Zhang said.
Members of the city's government leadership will not get promotion either, he said.