China continues to make progress in improving living standards as measured by the human development index (HDI), according to the 2006 Human Development Report, released yesterday by the UN Development Program (UNDP) office in Beijing.
In the last three years alone China surpassed nearly 25 countries in the HDI rankings to take the 81st position among the 175 developing countries listed, according to the report.
The HDI that measures education, health and other factors relating to quality of life is released every year focusing on a particular area of development.
This year's report is titled "Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis" and highlights steps China has taken toward meeting the water and sanitation needs of its rural residents.
"Now, provincial and county governments oversee plans for meeting targets set by the government," the report states. "Resources have been invested in developing and marketing sanitary latrines designed for rural areas. Uptake has been impressive, with rural sanitation coverage doubling in five years."
Alessandra Tisot, UNDP senior deputy resident representative in China, reiterated the report's findings at a press conference yesterday. "China has made strong improvements in extending the availability of water across the country despite a large imbalance in natural distribution between north and south," she said.
According to official statistics 96 million of China's 320 million people who are suffering from water shortage will have access to clean water by the end of this year.
"The same goes for improved sanitation," she said. "Extending rural access has been an important priority of the government and this has yielded impressive and laudable results."
According to the report global progress on meeting the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water is largely thanks to progress in China and India.
However, the report also stresses that securing a sustainable supply of clean water still poses a major challenge throughout China where national per capita access to water is only a third of the global average.
First, the country's water resources are scattered unevenly and water shortages occur on a seasonal basis. For example, the "3-H basin" of the Haihe, Huaihe and Huanghe (Yellow) rivers accounts for less than 8 percent of national water resources but supplies nearly half of China's population.
Second, pollution caused by China's economic boom poses a continued risk to the country's waterways. More than 70 percent of the water in the "3-H" river system is now too polluted for human use, according to the State Environmental Protection Administration.
China's continued industrial expansion also brings higher risks of industrial accidents like the one on the Songhua River a year ago.
The report also points out that over-exploitation of free water sources is another factor behind the country's current shortage and suggests that pricing and management should play a growing role in water governance in China.
Despite the challenges noted in the report, Li Yuanhua, an official from the Ministry of Water Resources, said in yesterday's press conference that China is still confident it will end its water shortage by 2015.
"The country is investing substantially in water infrastructure, especially in irrigation for agriculture, which is responsible for about 70 percent of the country's water consumption," said Li. "Such projects have already helped save 20 billion cubic meters of water last year. The prospects are encouraging."
(China Daily November 15, 2006)