Some 280 billion yuan (US$41 billion) will be spent on sewage treatment in 90 percent of counties nationwide as part of the central government's 4-trillion-yuan economic stimulus package.
About 2,600 counties will benefit from the building or upgrading of facilities, Qiu Baoxing, vice-minister of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, told a forum recently.
A senior official from the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) told China Daily: "This is the first time that there is a nationwide sewage treatment program."
There are 2,862 county-level administrative divisions in the country. The size of their centers varies, with the bigger ones called cities and smaller ones county towns. Most of the large public infrastructure and industries are concentrated in the county centers.
The completion of the program, planned for three years, will greatly improve local people's living standards, economists and environmental specialists said.
Daniel Dudek, senior consultant to the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, welcomed the program as it shows "how the Chinese government is putting environment together with development".
Cai Xudong, a spokesperson for Veolia Water (China), told China Daily that the government's decision to expand environmental infrastructure will throw open business opportunities for technology providers like the France-based company.
Improving rural sewage treatment is one of the key efforts in environmental investment, according to Zhou Shengxian, MEP minister. In a speech last week, he said small, decentralized waste water treatment facilities would be promoted in rural areas.
Of China's 730 million rural population, 40 percent still do not have access to safe drinking water and 80 percent do not have sewage treatment facilities, according to Professor Zheng Zheng, an environmental specialist at Nanjing University.
Untreated sewage is one of the factors contributing to water pollution and public health problems.
(China Daily November 18, 2008)