China is to raise water price in the next two years to stop reckless use of this scarce resource, said a senior official of the country's environmental watchdog Thursday in Beijing.
Wang Jirong, vice-director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), made the remark at a press conference to release the 2003 Statement on China's Environment.
"Despite the severe shortage, water is too cheap to be used economically. Only a raised price could motivate consumers to conserve," Wang said.
With water availability per capita one quarter of the world average, China is in a group of 13 countries ranked as having the lowest water per capita in the world. Among the country's total 668 cities, over 400 are short of water, and over 100 are in severe water shortage.
Statistics show that industries in the country lose at least 230 billion Renminbi (27.8 billion US dollars) annually due to the shortage.
However, water was virtually free of charge in China before 1985 and claimed a low price in 15 years after 1985.
Hoping to stop water waste, policy-makers in Beijing initiated a reform plan in 2002 which demanded users of larger volumes pay higher prices.
According to SEPA, Yinchuan, capital city of China's northwest Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, first adopted the new pricing system in early 2004. The drought-hit Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province are preparing for the reform.
"This reform will ease the current water pressure of these beleaguered cities and provinces which are faced by both drained surface water and declining groundwater," said Wang.
When rivers and lakes run dry or become polluted in most areas of China, groundwater is over-exploited to feed the ballooning cities and industries.
Land surfaces of over 46 cities are starting to sink from the over-pumping of groundwater. In coastal cities, declining groundwater is polluted by the invading seawater.
To ease the water shortage in its north, China launched a 59-billion-dollar water transfer project at the end of 2002 to channel water from the country's water-rich south to the dry north.
However, Wang believed the fundamental relief to the pressure is to make people pay a fair price for what they have used.