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China helps 109 mln rural people get safe drinking water
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China said on Wednesday that it has spent nearly 24 billion yuan (about 3.5 billion U.S. dollars) in the past two years to give more than 8 percent of its 1.3 billion people safe drinking water.

Environmental Protection Minister Zhou Shengxian said in a report to a plenary session of the National People's Congress Standing Committee that more than 109 million rural people benefited from the water investment since 2006.

Overall water quality last year was almost the same as in 2006, he said, adding that greater efforts were made to curb pollution in major streams.

The urban sewage treatment rate reached 63 percent in 2007, an 11 percentage-point rise from 2005, he said.

The central government has built farm biogas projects and ramped up efforts to protect wetlands, build more shelter belts and promote scientific fertilizer distribution in the countryside.

The country has also clamped down on sources of pollution, he said.

More than 1.6 million law enforcement officials investigated more than 700,000 enterprises nationwide, of which more than 15,000 were punished for polluting the environment, he said.

The country is still challenged by serious water pollution despite unremitting efforts to solve the problem, he said.

Algae blooms were constantly reported in lakes and rivers, affecting people's drinking water, he said.

Among the known 462 environmental pollution cases in 2007, nearly 40 percent involved water contamination, he said.

Sulfur dioxide levels and chemical oxygen demand, two key pollution indicators, have dropped since 2006, but China still faces difficulty meeting its target of cutting those pollutants by 10 percent of the 2005 figure by the end of 2010, he added.

Slow progress in parts of the country and some enterprises' disregard of discharge standards were making the task more difficult, he noted.

Zhou vowed to step up efforts to prevent and control water pollution.

He underlined the importance of cutting discharges and modernizing high-pollution industries, including paper making, brewing, printing and dyeing, leather making and the medical, mineral and chemical sectors.

The government will establish tougher requirements for enterprises and companies that want to be involved in the 4 trillion yuan stimulus package over the next few years, he said.

"The country is not going to relax environmental standards in exchange for a boost in domestic consumption," he said.

He also said China would make every effort to tackle pollution in major river basins, increase protection of rural water resources and carry out cross-provincial cooperation to address pollution.

Zhou's report is open for debate during the meeting, which started on Monday.

Three other Cabinet reports were also submitted for discussion: a report on the implementation of the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) on economic and social development, a report on commodity prices and another report on the consequences of the international financial crisis on the Chinese economy.

China has in recent years paid increasing attention to environmental problems as it seeks to balance high economic growth with a rational use of natural resources and reduce pollution.

(Xinhua News Agency December 24, 2008)

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