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US$41 Bln Planned for Urban Sewage Treatment Facilities
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China plans to invest more than 330 billion yuan (US$41.3 billion) in sewage treatment facilities in urban areas from 2006 to 2010, a senior Ministry of Construction official said Tuesday.


"Work on urban waste water treatment facilities and pipelines will be accelerated," Vice Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing said.


The government had stepped up efforts to improve urban water quality, but was still facing "major" problems such as water shortages, worsening pollution and degradation of rivers, he acknowledged.


Overall, China's water resources were still deteriorating, despite improvements in some areas. Three major sources of pollution -- urban sewage, industrial and agricultural waste water -- were far from being effectively controlled.


The government has admitted missing two targets in the country's 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-2005) period: energy costs and pollution curbs. By the end of last year, 278 of China's 661 cities had no sewage treatment plants.


An official report shows Chinese factories use five to ten times more water than the average in developed countries for an equivalent amount of industrial output. In other words, China has relatively little water but wastes what it has.


Qiu warned that China would have to pay a big price to reestablish water ecology once it is seriously degraded.


Work is underway on a giant south-to-north water diversion project. Its middle and eastern lines will cost as much as 320 billion yuan. It will also include a western line.


The country will renovate damaged water distribution networks as well as networks that are more than 50 years old by the end of next year, Qiu said.


At least 95 percent of urban homes would be supplied with clean water by 2010, up from 91.1 percent at the end of 2005.


China will raise water prices step by step. Qiu said sewage treatment costs would be included in water prices for all urban homes by the end of the year, leading to a 0.8 yuan rise for a ton of water.


Compared with five dollars per ton in the United States and 2.5 euros in France, China's tap water is very cheap. But Qiu said the price should be raised gradually so as not to shock ordinary people's "tolerance for change".


"We need to learn from water utilization experience in other countries," Qiu said, announcing that the World Water Congress and Exhibition will be held in Beijing from Sept. 10 to 14, with nearly 3,000 water experts and scholars and government officials expected.


The congress will increase worldwide awareness of water shortages and other water issues, he said. Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan will be honorary president and deliver a keynote speech to the congress. It is the first time the congress is being held in an Asian city.


"All the preparatory work is now well underway," he said.


(Xinhua News Agency August 23, 2006)

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