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Water Access to Help Alleviate Poverty

China plans to bring 24 million rural people, the last batch of its existing 30 million rural residents still living in chronic poverty, out of destitution by offering them water supplies and irrigation systems.

More than 80 million rural people lived under absolute poverty before 1993 due to a lack of sufficient and clean drinking water and a constant irrigation supply caused by a worsening local ecological environment and water-related calamities, such as droughts and soil erosion, according to Zhang Jiyao, vice-minister of water resources.

Today, more than 53 million previously poverty stricken people have bid farewell to poverty thanks to a government-launched seven-year poverty-alleviation program (1993-2000), in which water conservancy projects took center stage as the most important infrastructure improvement for impoverished areas, Zhang said.

However, some 24 million rural farmers in China’s hinterland still have great difficulty getting water due to harsh local natural conditions and water-related issues like droughts and chronic water and soil erosion.

“Our anti-poverty program is designed to help the 24 million more rural residents get access to drinkable water by 2003,” Zhang said in his latest report on the issue which was released this week.

Meanwhile, thousands of medium and small water-supply, irrigation, water and soil erosion-control and hydropower projects, are scheduled to be implemented during the 2001-03 period to benefit the 24 million rural residents, Zhang said.

Zhang is confident that effective water-control and supply projects, the most significant part of the nation’s poverty-eradication efforts this century, will ensure every member of the rural poor (whose annual per capita net income only stands at around 600 yuan (US$72.3) or less than one-third of the national average) receives 0.5 mu to 1 mu (0.07 hectare) of farmland with a stable yield for their grain ration.

Zhang’s ministry also hopes to introduce water-efficient irrigation to 20 percent of the country’s drought-prone areas and help bring around 13 percent of total infertile land under control.

To improve electricity supplies, Zhang said his ministry will finance local participation in the building of small hydropower stations in areas with available resources.

China’s water authorities have played a key role in eradicating the country’s poverty. The Ministry of Water Resources has, since 1993, spent over 30 billion yuan (US$3.6 billion) on the construction of three million water supply projects with a daily capacity of 20 million tons.

These projects were an important part of the national poverty-relief program in 1993 when the central government decided to eliminate the poverty that plagued some 80 million rural people throughout China.

In towns and counties, central and local governments have invested 40 billion yuan (US$4.8 billion) in improving the daily use and production water supply for 150 million people.

(chinadaily.com.cn 07/04/2001)

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