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Arid China Province Taps Water for 1.8 Mln Rural People

Approximately 1.8 million rural residents have gained access to safe drinking water over the past two years in northwest China's Gansu Province, but more than 10 million others are still drinking unclean water or facing water shortages, latest government statistics show.

Starting 2006, the provincial government has earmarked 850 million yuan (US$116.4 million) to provide tap water for people living in rural areas of Gansu who have been collecting rain water for household use, said Yao Jinzhong, of the Gansu Provincial Department of Water Resources.

"We once helped each rural household build small water cellars to collect rain water, but the water would usually turn bad after some time," Yao said. "Besides, rain water supplies couldn't be guaranteed in drought years."

The provincial government also solved water shortages in extremely dry areas of Huanxian, Huining and Jingyuan counties in 2007, benefiting 200,000 residents, he said.

"Water was too precious in the past. We couldn't afford to take a bath all year round, and we had to wait for a rain in order to do washing," said Wang Xiaoxia, a resident in Daping village, Lintao County.

She recalled the villagers had to walk for two hours to a valley three kilometers away to fetch water, and the water contained too much silt.

"Now that we've got running water, we can wash whenever we want," she said.

But Gansu still needs to provide safe drinking water for about 10.7 million rural residents, nearly 60 percent of the total population in the countryside of the remote and arid province, Yao said.

Among them, half are drinking unclean water below national safety standards, while the other half are suffering shortages or difficulties in water supplies.

"The provincial government is now actively applying for financial support from state authorities to help more rural people get access to safe drinking water this year," Yao said.

Separately, the neighboring Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which also suffers dry climate and water shortages, is to invest 200 million yuan to provide clean and safe drinking water for 300,000 rural residents this year, according to the Ningxia Regional Department of Water Resources.

By the end of 2015, the region will solve drinking water problems for 1.36 million rural residents, and gradually provide tap water to each village, the department has said.

(Xinhua News Agency January 9, 2008)

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