The Chinese government has rolled out a major program to give 160 million rural people access to reliable supplies of safe drinking water over the next five years.
The plan approved on Wednesday at a meeting of the State Council chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao gives priority to rural areas where drinking water was tainted by fluorine, arsenic, salt, pollution, and the schistosoma worm, which causes the disease schistosomiasis.
Smaller ethnic minority groups, rural schools, and people displaced by the construction of reservoirs also top the agenda.
The plan includes "comprehensive measures", including the protection of drinking water sources, waste treatment, improved water quality monitoring, and water conservation awareness campaigns.
By the end of 2005, the government had improved drinking water supplies to more than 280 million rural people, according to official statistics.
The central government, however, asked local governments to make clean drinking water for the people a top priority as the problem remains "prominent" in some rural areas.
The rural drinking water safety program would mainly be funded by the government, though various non-governmental sectors are also encouraged to contribute.
At least 300 million rural residents in China have no access to safe, clean drinking water, and only 31 percent of rural toilets reach hygiene standards, according to the Ministry of Health.
(Xinhua News Agency August 31, 2006)