Massive waste and drought have aggravated China's water shortages, while the Three Gorges Dam and ambitious water diversion projects are not the answer to the problem, according to the nation's top water resources official.
Minister of Water Resources Wang Shucheng warned the country faced a daunting task in tackling the worsening nationwide water crisis, which had left more than 400 cities short of supply.
'Given the country's serious water shortage problems, along with the low efficiency and enormous waste, the fundamental solution must be water conservation,' he was quoted as saying by Xinhua yesterday.
'Building a society that conserves water is an inevitable choice for the country's sustainable economic development and its importance is by no means less than that of the Three Gorges Dam and the South-North Water Diversion Project.'
Addressing 800 top government and state-owned enterprise officials at an internal briefing earlier this month, Mr Wang painted a grim picture of the water crisis.
'In a normal year, the country is short of nearly 40 billion tonnes of water, which is equal to 10 times Beijing's annual water consumption,' he said.
More than 320 million people in rural areas did not have access to drinkable water and 110 cities had serious supply difficulties. Massive droughts have been hitting the country more frequently, with affected areas expanding from northern cities to Guangdong, Guangxi and even Hainan in 2004.
The worst drought in 50 years had hit Beijing, Tianjin and neighbouring Hebei province this year and the capital was struggling with its eighth drought year in a decade, Xinhua said.
Global warming, growing population and the over-exploitation of the country's water resources made the crisis even worse, he said.