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26 Million Rural Residents Lack Drinking Water
Almost 26 million rural people in the country still lack clean drinking water despite massive investment to ease water shortage in its northern and western regions, officials said Monday.

"We have made breakthroughs in easing the rural residents' access to drinking water," Vice-Minister of Water Resources Zhai Haohui said at a national conference on drinking water for rural population, which opened Monday in Shijiazhuang city, capital of the north China's Hebei Province.

"The rural water supply project will move to guaranteeing the safety of drinking water for rural residents after 2004 when we expect to solve the water shortage in the countryside," Zhai said.

Drinking water was somewhat hard to get for approximately 50.2 million rural Chinese, especially in Hebei and Shanxi provinces, and Inner Mongolia autonomous region in the north China and Shaanxi and Gansu provinces in the northwest, according to statistics for early 2000 from the Ministry of Water Resources.

In 2000, China launched a massive project with a total investment of 17 billion yuan (about US$2.1 billion) to build water resources projects, sink wells and desalinate alkali-salt water for millions of farmers.

"We are expecting to reach the goal to provide enough clean drinking water for the 50.2 million farmers one year ahead of schedule in 2004," according to Zhao Leshi, an official of rural water resources with the ministry.

"We had solved the drinking water problem for 24.23 million people in the rural areas by the end of 2002 and 15.6 million more are expected to have access to clean drinking water by the end of this year," Zhao said.

(Xinhua News Agency November 3, 2003)

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