As Premier Wen Jiabao promised
"clean water for the people," receiving thunderous applause from
National People's Congress (NPC) deputies, one-third of China's
rural population remained without access to safe drinking water,
according to the Ministry of Water Resources.
On Saturday, Wen said in his work
report that the government will concentrate on providing clean
water for everyone.
To help address the problem, 2
billion yuan (US$242 million) has been earmarked this year, 200
million yuan (US$24 million) more than last year, an official at
the Ministry of Water Resources said.
The fund will be used to seek out
quality water sources and enforce water purification, said Zhao
Leshi, a division chief of the ministry's rural water resource
In rural areas, the problems of
contamination, seasonal shortages, inconvenience in fetching water
and deficient water supplies all need to be solved.
"The foremost threat nowadays lies
in bad water quality," said Zhao.
Rural drinking water is being
polluted with industrial and agricultural pollutants, such as
arsenic and fluorine, at levels that exceed national
Legislators and international
advisers are deeply concerned, and have suggested ideas for
sustaining the development of limited water resources at the
ongoing session of the NPC.
NPC deputies Sun Xiaoshan and Fu
Qionghua from east China's Jiangxi Province both suggested that a
rural drinking water fund be established by collecting small
additional fees for urban water consumption.
If each metric ton of water cost 0.2
yuan (2.4 US cents) more in the province's cities, each person
would pay only an estimated 1.8 yuan (22 US cents) more a month at
most, Fu said in her proposal.
Given the growth rate of Jiangxi's
gross domestic product, the small fees levied on water both for
civic and industrial use would be translated into a fund of 1.8
billion yuan (US$218 million) between 2005 and 2020, said Fu, also
an engineer at the local water science academy.
"It is international practice for
central government to finance the bulk of the input to rural water
resources. But China's subsidies in the agriculture industry are
far less than they should be," she said.
"The fund will be a flexible
supplement, whilst not burdening urban people too much."
Christoph Peisert, a German water
conservation expert who has worked in China for 16 years, agreed
with Fu's proposal, but said it must be shown that the fund is used
exclusively for water protection activities.
"Basically, China's water problem is
a problem of water management," said Peisert, who is engaged in a
Sino-German watershed management project in Beijing.
He said the success of water
resource management projects should not be judged by the size of
financial investment alone, but on the basis of their ability to
sustain economically sound systems of water protection.
He added that in future some
carefully selected and well-trained farmers should be given support
to become foresters, instead of making their money from low-wage
water polluting activities or part-time construction work.
NPC deputy Yuan Hanmin from Gansu
Province called for the creation of a water-saving society.
"The water supply system should be
changed. Extra charges should be placed on additional water use,"
He said that water supply facilities
must be upgraded soon in rural places to improve efficiency.
Currently only 40 percent of the
water from reservoirs arrives at its destination.
Unsafe drinking water is also
becoming a threat to cities, where a huge sum is spent annually to
purify polluted water.
In 2003, the country disposed of 64
billion tons of sewage. Only 28 percent of 46 key cities surveyed
that year had access to good-quality drinking water.
In Jiaxing, a city in Zhejiang
Province intersected by waterways, 70 percent of the water in its
rivers was found to be of 'low quality,' according to its mayor
Downstream of Suzhou and Hangzhou --
two big cities with fast economic development -- Jiaxing has
suffered from extensive water pollution in the last two
(China Daily March 11,