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Water Saving A Hot Topic in China

Water saving is on top of the agenda of the Chinese government as a wide range of activities are going on around the globe to mark the World Day for Water Friday.

China has sustained 22 percent of the world's population with only 6 percent of the world's renewable water resources, Suo Lisheng, vice minister of water resources, said Friday.

Water shortage still hinders China's social and economic growth, though the country's annual water supply capacity has increased from 100 billion cubic meters in 1949 to 570 billion cubic meters in 2001, Suo said.

Statistics show China is among the world's 13 thirstiest countries. Its annual average per capita water supply, which now stands at 430 cubic meters, is only a quarter of the world's average. About 400 out of its 699 cities are short of water.

As the global water shortage is daily aggravating, China has stepped up efforts to raise public awareness of the issue.

Days before the World Day for Water, many cities put up posters reading "water for development" and "water is vital to life" along major streets.

Shenyang, a traditional industrial base in northeast China, released a memorandum Friday to inform the citizens of its dilemma in water supply.

According to the memo, Shenyang's per capita water supply is only one fifth of the national average and one seventeenth of the world average.

Though more water is needed to sustain Shenyang's 7.2 million population and agricultural and industrial production, the underground water level in the city has kept dropping at an average 62 centimeters during the dry season, said local hydrological experts.

The municipal government of Shenyang is planning to use US$37 million of World Bank loans in the coming five years to introduce water-saving irrigation devices.

Like many other Chinese cities, Shenyang is also calling for less waste and more rational exploitation of water resources among its citizens.

With the help of the Asian Development Bank, the Chinese government decided in 1998 to adjust water prices in line with internationally accepted standards.

Many cities have raised water prices since then, as higher prices are widely believed to be crucial for avoiding water squandering and will therefore help ensure a secure water supply in China.

The national capital Beijing raised prices for water and sewage treatment in February this year, "an effective means to curb waste and relieve water shortage", officials say.

While the northern and western areas are fighting drought, less thirsty southern cities have moved to improve water environment.

Over 1,000 people gathered Friday by Wenjing River, a Yangtze tributary in southwest China's Sichuan Province, to free tens of thousands of fishes caught by poachers.

"Actually, fish is my favorite dish," said a 14-year-old schoolgirl, "But it's now prime time for their reproduction and fishes can improve water quality of the river."

The eastern municipality Shanghai plans to spend an unprecedented 14 billion yuan (US$1.7 billion) to improve water quality during the coming five years, including better treatment of its annual 2.2 billion cubic meters of sewage and further exploitation of freshwater from the Yangtze River, said government sources.

By cleaning up its rivers, Shanghai will strive to be an "oriental Venice, Mayor Chen Liangyu told a local conference Friday marking the tenth World Day for Water.

(Xinhua News Agency March 22, 2002)

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