Clean-water drive targets farmers
Josephine Ma in Beijing
Five-year plan will benefit 32 million villagers annually - if projects are completed
Beijing will spend 6.4 billion yuan annually to provide clean drinking water for 32 million villagers each year until 2010. The push, part of a five-year plan that started last year, will give 160 million farmers access to clean water.
The pledge was made by Water Resources Minister Wang Shucheng during a conference yesterday.
According to government statistics, about 34 per cent of the rural population, or 320 million people, had no access to clean drinking water in 2004. Among these rural residents, 125 million live in western provinces, 138 million in middle provinces and 69.6 million in eastern provinces.
Mr Wang told a conference last year that unsafe drinking water was causing serious health problems.
'Hundreds of thousands of Chinese are afflicted by various diseases from [unsafe] drinking water,' he said.
The central government said it spent 22 billion yuan from 2001 to 2005 to give 67 million farmers access to clean drinking water, Xinhua reported.
Mr Wang said Beijing spent 6 billion yuan to provide clean drinking water to the countryside last year alone. The amount was 4 billion yuan higher than that spent in 2005.
Together with the 5.5 billion yuan invested by local governments and the public, these projects gave 28.97 million rural people access to clean drinking water, he said.
However, according to an earlier report by Xinmin Weekly, a leading news weekly, China only completed one-third of the targeted river cleanups in the five years from 2001 to 2005.
It said about 40 per cent of the projects to clean up rivers had not even started, while two-thirds of the money the government had budgeted for the purpose had not yet gone towards the actual projects.
The failure to clean polluted rivers was a major obstacle for Beijing to achieve its goal of providing clean water in the countryside, the report said.
According to a survey by the State Environmental Protection Administration of 234 villages released late last year, only 8.81 per cent of the drinking water in these villages met safety standards for bacterial content.
More than half of the underground water and drinking water samples collected in 69 townships and counties in Beijing, Tianjin and Tangshan had nitrate content that met safety standards, the survey also found.
It said the government had given priority to urban and industrial water supply, leading to problems such as water shortages and poor water quality in the countryside.
Xinhua said less than 40 per cent of the mainland's villages had tap water.
Among the 320 million farmers with no access to clean drinking water, 190 million had drinking water tainted with toxic materials that exceeded safety standards.
Mr Wang told yesterday's conference that the ministry would step up supervision of projects to provide clean water in the countryside to ensure its quality.