4 trillion yuan to be spent on boosting water infrastructure

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 January, 2011, 12:00am

The central government will spend four trillion yuan (HK$4.7 trillion) in the next 10 years to rebuild outdated water conservancy projects and improve water-use efficiency on the mainland as natural disasters further threaten agricultural output.

Investment in irrigation and water conservancy each year in the next decade will be at least twice the 200 billion yuan spent in 2010, according to the central authorities' first document of the year, issued on Saturday. The government's 'No 1 document', its annual manifesto on agricultural development for the past eight years, also pledged to adopt the strictest water protection measures ever and set a cap on annual water consumption at 670 billion cubic metres.

Calling it 'the first comprehensive document on water resources since the founding of the People's Republic', Water Resources Minister Chen Lei said yesterday that development in conservancy was lagging. 'Compared with what's required by our economic and social progress, investment in water conservancy has been far from adequate. Accelerating the development in this area demands immediate action.'

The document requires local governments to set aside 10 per cent of their revenue from sale of land for water projects in rural areas.

'According to total revenue from land transactions last year, [this means] an amount ranging from 60-80 billion yuan for building rural irrigation,' Chen said. But he said the need for finance varied. 'There is a gap in land income between the western and eastern regions.

'In the east, land is more expensive and, hence, a higher income from land sales, but in fact, water projects there require less money [since they are better developed]. In the west, development in water conservancy is poorer, and there's less revenue from land [sales].'

Shen Dajun, an academic at the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research (IWHR), said the introduction of a consumption cap meant the government had attached the same importance to water as to land. The government's 11th five-year plan, for 2006-10, set a minimum size for China's farmland at 120 million hectares.

'Water now becomes the next quantity control target of the government,' Shen said.

Measures to protect water include standards for pollution and efficiency of use.

The document says that by 2015, at least 55 per cent of the water meant for rural irrigation should be used effectively. The official efficiency rate for rural irrigation is 48 per cent.

However, Qiu Weiduo, a retired senior engineer for IWHR, said it had declined to 30 per cent if waste in fields was considered.

According to the blueprint, 2.7 million hectares of farmland will be turned into efficiently irrigated land. Qiu said that currently, of the 120 million hectares of arable land, less than half had irrigation systems.

The government also vowed to solve drinking water problems in rural areas in two years.

A severe drought that hit south China last spring left millions of rural people lacking clean water.

In Minqin county, Gansu - dubbed the driest place in China - people have half an hour of water supply every week, said Lam Li, a backpacker who visited in May.