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China Battles Against Water Shortages
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Although he lives near the Hongze Lake, China's fourth largest freshwater lake, Yan Fengxia still has to buy mineral water for drinking or even cooking.


"Our life gets harder as fish die due to increasing water pollution," said Yan, a fishwife who has been fishing for more than 20 years on the lake, located in the middle reaches of the Huaihe River in east China's Jiangsu Province.


Like Yan, many residents along the banks of the Huaihe River, China's third longest river flowing through east China's Shandong, Henan, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces, have to add sugar or salt to water to drink it.


In fact, water pollution treatment in the river had already been put on the agenda of China's top water authorities over a decade ago.


Beginning in 1994, China has earmarked around 20 billion yuan (some US$2.46 billion) to treat pollution on the Huaihe River, by taking measures such as building waste treatment plants and shutting down small polluting factories.


However, pollution remains a big problem despite the arduous efforts made in the past ten years.


With China's urbanization and industrialization processes, water pollution and shortage has become more severe than ever before.


Among 600 Chinese cities, 110 are seriously affected by water shortages, which also include 26 cities along the Yangtze River, China's longest.


China's per capita freshwater resources is 2,300 cubic meters, only a quarter of the world's average level.


To tackle water shortages, China has exerted great efforts in the last five years and vowed to invest more in water projects.


Between 2001 and 2005, China reported a total of 362.5 billion yuan (US$4.8 billion) in fixed assets investment in water conservation projects, statistics from the Ministry of Water Resources show.


Meanwhile, a massive water diversion project began in 2002, which will divert water from the Yangtze River through three routes to northern and northwestern China's thirsty cities.


The concept of "saving water" has been advocated in both big cities and rural areas.


Farmlands with water-saving irrigation have reached 500,000 hectares over the past five years in the province, which can save about 1.7 billion cubic meters of water annually, said a water resources official in central China's Henan Province, where more and more farmers have abandoned the traditional way of irrigation that consumes large amounts of water.


China plans to increase its water-saving irrigation areas by 10 million hectares by 2010, said Minister of Water Resources Wang Shucheng.


In the national capital of Beijing, a water conservation campaign has helped the city save 100 million cubic meters of water per year, which can be supplied to 10,000 three-member families for four years.


It is an effective way to build a water-saving society, water experts from the ministry said. "But China still has a long way to go in terms of alleviating water crises."


"China will step up efforts to tackle water pollution and shortages in the next five years in order to ensure water supply safety and sustainable economic development," Wang said.


(Xinhua News Agency March 16, 2006)

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