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300 mln rural Chinese lack clean drinking water
23/3/2005 8:37

China suffers greater harm from water pollution than from floods, as more than 300 million people in rural areas here do not have adequate clean drinking water, experts said at a seminar in Beijing yesterday, World Water Day.

"Hundreds of thousands Chinese are afflicted with various diseases from drinking water that contains too much fluorine, arsenic, sodium sulfate or bitter salt," said Wang Shucheng, minister of Water Resources.

China has followed a tradition of "water control equals runningthe country" since ancient times.

But today, the country is challenged by water-related problems as it faces water shortage, heavy water pollution and an unbalance of its water ecosystem.

"Enjoying safe water should not be luxurious consumption but a basic right," said Feng Guangzhi, president of China Irrigation Area Association.

Data collected from 345 sections in 175 mainstream rivers by the ministry in January show only 46.7 percent of the country's water is drinkable.

A survey of water quality of 52 lakes across the country conducted at the same time shows water in half numbe`r of the lakeswas heavily polluted and 35 percent of ground water was undrinkable due to pollution.

Chinese President Hu Jintao instructed local and provincial governments to put drinking water resources protection on the priority of their agendas.

Thanks to a plan aimed to resolve difficulties in drinking water supply, 57 million rural people have begun to enjoy safe water. The government launched the plan five years ago and has invested 18 billion yuan (2.1 billion US dollars).

China has set up more than 30,000 township water supply projects, from which more than 200 million locals have benefited.

China has said it would lower the population faced with drinking water problems to a third by 2010 and ensure safe drinking water for everyone by 2020.

"To hit the target, the government will provide a layout and guarantee investment for project construction," Wang said. "The ministry will map a comprehensive plan and put it into practice this year."

Wang also appealed for an improvement or enactment of related policies, laws and regulations on water protection to prevent use of harmful fertilizer and pesticides.

Experts called for increased publicity for the importance of drinking water safety. Mao Zhi, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences called the activities leading to water pollution "contrived poisoning" and "committing a crime."