Shake-up in water services under study

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 12:00am

Suppliers could be controlled by a single bureau for higher efficiency and quality

Local water suppliers may be placed under a single bureau to improve efficiency and the quality of supplies, a senior official has said.

The feasibility of such a move was being studied by local governments, according to Vice-Minister of Water Resources Qu Haohui.

Xinhua's website quoted him as saying that the new water services bureau would oversee matters ranging from flood control, water-source management, supply and use, to waste-water treatment.

Various government agencies currently control different related water services in more than half the nation's cities and counties.

The waste-water treatment system is governed by the Environment Protection Bureau, while rural water transportation is looked after by the Agriculture Department. This division of control often leads to a lack of co-ordination on projects.

Mr Qu said the central government would gradually phase out its direct control of local water agencies and they would become independent public utilities.

He said the administration would introduce a series of measures to promote the development of public utilities.

These would cover areas such as the relationship between utility companies and the administration, their sources of funding and management.

Xinhua said Mr Qu predicted market forces would soon play a greater role in the operation of mainland public utilities.

He believed such moves would stimulate diverse investment schemes and innovation in water supply and transportation projects.

However, experts doubt whether the government's proposals will lead to substantial improvements in water use and supply.

Ma Jun, a water specialist at the Beijing-based environmental consulting firm Sinosphere, said the consolidation of various water agencies into a single authority would only strengthen government power, while the phasing out of the government's direct management of the bureaus would create water monopolies.

Without any system of public supervision, Mr Ma suspected the new centralised control scheme would continue to misuse water supplies.

'The key issue to promoting efficiency of water use is not implementation but increasing transparency and communication between the various water users,' he said.

The Ministry of Water Resources says about 400 of the mainland's 600 cities currently face water shortages, with 110 cities reporting serious problems.

The nation's per capita water resources stands at 2,200 cubic metres - just a quarter of the world's average.

The per capita figure will drop to 1,750 cubic metres in 2020 when the population reaches 1.6 billion.