Vice-Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing said yesterday that China's cities must recycle more waste water and adopt market-oriented reforms.
"The nation faces the toughest challenge in the world over water resources which on the whole are polluted," Qiu told a mayor's forum on the sidelines of the ongoing fifth World Water Congress and Exhibition in Beijing.
It's not realistic to alleviate China's water shortage in cities simply by digging channels to divert water from other regions, Qiu said. "That would disturb the natural water cycle," he commented.
In a descriptive part of his address he emphasized that people who lived upstream required to respect the needs of people downstream and increase their use of properly recycled waste water.
About 20 billion tons of industrial and residential waste water flowed into rivers and lakes annually in China's cities and 90 percent of the rivers running through urban areas were polluted, Qiu said.
Qiu recommended the nation abandon administrative orders which were left over from the planned-economy era to run water systems in many cities. Instead, he said, the cities should use a combination of regulations and market-economy methods.
At the end of last year 278 of China's 662 major cities had no sewage treatment plants, Qiu said. Many of the plants are not fully operational because they've not been able to attract funding through competitive bidding.
In recent years many cities had spent huge amounts of money to treat waste water, clean up rivers and divert water, Qiu said. "But the urban water environment in these cities has not changed fundamentally."
"We must change the traditional economic development mode of 'polluting first and then cleaning up'... the key is to change the development philosophy," he said.
With a huge population and vast areas of pollution China couldn't copy foreign methods to deal with waste water, said Tsinghua University professor Qian Yi in an interview.
Instead, the nation required "higher efficiency and lower cost technology" especially concerning the quality of drinking water, she said.
A total of 35 cities including Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, received awards from the ministry for their good work in curbing water pollution.
(China Daily September 13, 2006)