"By the end of 2020, we are going to reach the goal of basically providing safe drinking water for all rural people," said Zhai Haohui, vice minister of water resources.
Officials said on Sunday that they are planning to launch a long-term project to deal with the lack of clean water, which is damaging the quality of life and threatening the health of millions in rural areas.
Zhai said that by 2010, the number of residents without access to clean drinking water should be reduced by one-third.
The 2020 deadline for clean water for all is part of the government's Millennium Goals declared to the United Nations. More than 300 million rural residents throughout the country still lack clean drinking water.
"In some areas, many farmers have to go several kilometers to fetch drinking water, while some have to drink water with high fluorine or arsenic content or saltwater that endangers their health," said Zhai.
Unsafe drinking water is connected to 80 percent of all diseases and deaths in developing countries, ministry experts said. In China, more than 50 diseases are the direct result of unclean drinking water.
The government is still trying to work out the details of the plan but Zhai was confident that after a careful study of local water and environmental conditions, authorities will be able to draw up a blueprint to meet the target.
He urged local water agencies to determine local needs, protect existing water sources and be alert to water pollution.
China's rural drinking water supply project, completed during the 10th Five-Year Plan (2000–04), relieved water shortages for more than 57 million rural residents, according to the ministry.
Over the past five years, more than 14 million rural families in 27 provinces have gained access to drinking water. More than 800,000 new water-processing facilities have gone into operation.
Pollution of China's major rivers and their tributaries, as well as of aquifers that serve as well-water sources, is a serious and worsening problem for much of the nation despite central government efforts to control it.
(China Daily November 29, 2004)