GUANGZHOU -- All people living in rural areas of Guangdong will have access to clean drinking water by 2012, the head of the provincial water resource department said on Monday.
By that time, 76 percent of rural dwellers will be connected to the main water supply - up from 70 percent now - with the rest served by wells, Huang Boqing, director of the department, said.
"In the past few years, an additional 1.8 million rural residents have been given access to clean water. However, millions more in hard to reach areas of eastern and western parts of Guangdong are still without," he said.
Over the next five years, the department will provide safe supplies to an extra 16.45 million rural residents, Huang said.
Figures for 2006 show there were 32 million people living in rural areas, of Guangdong, out of a total population of 92 million.
The cost of the entire project will be about 7.34 billion yuan ($1.07 billion), Huang said.
The central government will provide 990 million yuan; the provincial government 2.6 billion yuan; and the rest will come from city and county governments and private donations, he said.
"This year alone, about 890 million yuan of government money will be spent on providing safe drinking water to about 2 million people living in rural areas of Guangdong," he said.
As part of the overall project, three schemes will be launched this year to expand the water supply network in the counties of Boluo, Fogang and Maogang, Huang said.
These will include the construction of new treatment plants and extending the supply pipe network, he said.
Providing safe, clean drinking water across Guangdong will improve not only people's daily lives but also their health, Huang said.
The water that many people currently rely on from rivers, lakes and wells is not sanitary. It often contains high levels of harmful substances like fluorine and arsenic, he said.
In developing countries, 80 percent of all diseases are caused by the consumption of unclean water, the World Health Organization has said.
In Guangdong, many rural residents have problems with their teeth and bones due to the high levels of fluorine in the water they drink, while ailments related to digestion are also common, Huang said.
What's more, many babies fail to grow as they should, as a result of consuming contaminated water, he said.
"This province-wide scheme will help alleviate many of these problems and generally improve living standards for people in rural areas," he said.
In the future, the scheme could help boost revenues from farming, forestry and animal husbandry by as much as 1.4 billion yuan a year, Huang said.