Safe drinking water a top priority for China

Premier Li Keqiang promised to fix drinking water problems for more than 60 million rural residents in China this year.
PHOTO: Safe drinking water a top priority for China

CHINA - China still has 110 million people, including more than 15 million students and teachers, in rural China without access to safe drinking water, a senior official said on Friday.

"Providing every rural family with safe water to drink by 2015 is at the top of the agenda of the Ministry of Water Resources this year and the next," Jiao Yong, vice-minister of water resources, told a news conference organised by the State Council Information Office.

Premier Li Keqiang promised to fix drinking water problems for more than 60 million rural residents this year during the annual parliamentary meeting last week.

The central government invested more than 32 billion yuan (S$6.49 billion) to help more than 63 million rural residents have access to safe drinking water last year, according to the Ministry of Water Resources.

From 2005 to 2012, the government allocated about 180 billion yuan for drinking water safety projects, official data shows.

In order to provide every rural resident with access to safe drinking water by 2015, the water resources authorities will strengthen the protection of water source areas and further monitor water quality in rivers and lakes, said Chen Mingzhong, director of the department of water resources under the ministry.

While rural China is struggling with its drinking water, severe water shortages are another challenge the nation is facing. The global average per capita water availability is 7,100 cubic meters, while China has just 2,100 cubic metre per capita, according to the ministry.

The vice-minister said China has already implemented a strict water protection plan, drawing "red lines", or key limits, for future water usage.

The country is to cap annual water use at less than 700 billion cubic metre by 2030. China used more than 613 billion cubic metre of water in 2012.

To implement that goal, Jiao said regional water allocation plans for China's more than 50 rivers will be made and plans for 11 rivers, including the Huaihe River, have been completed.

Jiao said that besides the water allocation plan, water allocation and quality would be used to evaluate the yearly performance of local governments.

"An evaluation team made up of experts from 10 ministries and departments has been established to evaluate the local governments' performance and the evaluation results will be reported to the State Council," Jiao said, adding that strict punishment will apply for authorities with poor performances.

China's authorities have paid high attention to the management of rivers and lakes, which is the theme of the 27th national water week campaign, which starts on Saturday.