Almost 17 million people in Sichuan Province do not have access to safe drinking water, an official said yesterday.
Zhai Feng, chief of the environment and resource protection committee with the Guangyuan people's congress, said: "People collect drinking water directly from rivers and wells. But it is not up to safety standards."
Many cases of esophageal cancer and gastrointestinal diseases have been reported among Sichuan's rural areas, which is a direct result of them drinking unsafe water, Zhai said.
He attributed much of the problem to pollution from factories in rural townships.
To reduce operational costs, many factories discharge untreated water directly into the river, he said.
A lack of environmental inspection staff is to blame for the poor supervision of these companies, he said.
More environmental protection organizations need to be set up, Zhai said.
"There are no environmental protection organizations at town level in Sichuan.
"In better developed East China, a town may have a pollution monitoring station, a sewage treatment plant, and a rubbish treatment facility. In Guangyuan, very few counties have even have a rubbish plant," Zhai said.
Although Sichuan has a population of 86 million people, it is not very well developed, he said.
The problem of water pollution has become increasingly serious in Sichuan as a result of the rapid economic development, urbanization and modernization of agriculture, he said.
Zhai said he has submitted a proposal to the Sichuan Provincial People's Congress Standing Committee, suggesting it introduces a local regulation to implement the national Water Pollution Control Act.
"Water pollution controls must be built into the economic and social development plans of every local government above county level," he said.
"Local governments should close down heavy-polluting companies, and stop new ones from setting up.
"In addition, any government official that fails to fulfill his or her environmental obligations should be seriously punished," Zhai said.
All About Drinking water, Water pollution(China Daily January 25, 2008)