Safe drinking water will be available to the one hundred and sixty million people living in China's rural areas in the next five years and by 2015 all the country's rural residents will have access to safe potable water, Minister of Water Resources Wang Shucheng told Xinhua News Agency on Monday.
Wang said 312 million Chinese villagers are currently facing water shortages or only have access to unsafe water contaminated by fluorine, arsenic, high levels of salt or other organic or industrial pollutants.
Although the budget has not been firmly set the minister said the country planned to invest around 40 billion yuan (US$5 billion) over the next ten years on safe water supply projects. Wang said China was likely to far exceed its UN Millennium Development Goal which was to reduce by half the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015.
Worldwide one in every six people is without safe drinking water and in China there are more than 50 diseases caused and spread by unsafe water, said Zhai Haohui, Vice Minister of Water Resources.
China's 11th five-year plan for 2006-2010, approved last March, called for safe water to be provided to 100 million rural residents. That target was raised to 160 million after a State Council conference on rural drinking water safety held on August 30.
Wang said the increased pace in providing safe water to China's rural areas was in line with the central government plan to build a new socialist countryside. According to Wang the central government would increase investment in rural water supply projects and encourage more private investment in rural infrastructure construction.
More capital from the central government would flow into the poorer western regions of China in the coming years, said Wang. The rich eastern region would be encouraged to open parts of its rural water supply network to investors by offering them favorable investment policies.
Water supply facilities in urban centers would be extended to villages located in city suburbs. Villages far from urban areas would benefit from the construction of water-supply facilities, said the minister. In areas where water was contaminated special water-treatment and supply facilities would be built, added Wang.
Tang Min, chief economist with the China Mission of the Asian Development Bank, told Xinhua that the Chinese government's decision to provide accessible potable water to rural residents displayed that China had aligned itself with the new concept of scientific development and a "people-centered" approach.
Tang, who has studied China's rural problems, said great changes had taken place in China's development strategy in recent years. It had shifted from the simple pursuit of economic growth to a harmonious development between economy and society.
Statistics with the Ministry of Water Resources indicate China's per capita water resources are only a quarter of world average levels. The ministry said China had completed more than three million rural water supply projects since the country was established in 1949 which benefited 273 million rural residents.
China invested 22.3 billion yuan (US$2.79 billion) from 2001 to 2005 to provide 67 million people with safe water.
Wang said while China worked to resolve its own water problems the country was contributing more to international efforts to solve the world's water difficulties. In recent years China has assisted fund 83 water and sanitation projects in developing countries and sent many experts to African countries where they have worked on local water supply projects.
(Xinhua News Agency September 5, 2006)