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Safe Water to Reach More Farmers
The central government plans to provide 16 million more rural residents with access to safe drinking water by 2004, said Vice-Minister of Water Resources Chen Lei.

He said the endeavor follows the government's successful five-year (1998-2002) project to provide drinking water for about 34 million poverty-stricken rural residents.

Chen said the government's new project will help bring water to residents living mainly in ethnic minority areas, old revolutionary base areas, border areas and destitute areas in the central and western regions of China and help them escape poverty.

In his opening speech at yesterday's forum on irrigation agriculture and poverty elimination organized by the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy, Chen also expressed his concern about China's reservoirs.

Out of 85,000 reservoirs of varying size nationwide, nearly 35 per cent have been found "unsafe and damaged.''

The leaking reservoirs have brought great loss to farmers and some of them have to turn to crops other than rice, because of water shortages.

The experience of a farmer named Ju Hua in Sichuan Province is a typical example.

In recent years, Ju's family, located in the province's mountainous Tongjiang County, has continuously suffered from drought and water shortage in rice planting season because the two small reservoirs in his village have become essentially useless over the years.

"Usually, pouring rain comes during July and August after the rice planting season but the flood water is lost as runoff, with none of it being stored in the reservoirs," said Ju, whose family planted nearly one-third hectare of rice in 1995 but have now shifted to dry farming.

Chen said his ministry is stepping up efforts to shore up the reservoirs, which are not only essential to the harvest of farmers' crops but also a threat to residents living below them in their present condition.

Chen said the central government has invested 178.6 billion yuan (US$22 billion) over the past five years in water conservation projects to fight against drought and flooding, strengthen reservoirs and provide adequate water for animals and human beings.

Chen said controlling water and soil erosion are urgent tasks in China, if the country is to rehabilitate the environment.

Erosion caused by water, wind, freezing and melting and gravity -- for example, landslides and mud-rock flow -- has affected 3.56 million square kilometres of China's land or 37 per cent of its total territory, a recent survey has found.

So far, severe water and soil erosion and the consequent ecological degradation have not been slowed.

Land degradation and desert encroachment caused by water and soil erosion tends to be worse in areas where land is scarce and the population is growing.

(China Daily September 2, 2003)

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