One hundred and sixty million people in China's rural areas will get clean and safe drinking water in the next five years and by 2015 all Chinese rural residents will be provided with safe potable water, Minister of Water Resources Wang Shucheng told Xinhua on Monday.
Wang said currently 312 million Chinese villagers are facing water shortages or unsafe water contaminated by fluorine, arsenic, high levels of salt or other organic or industrial pollutants.
Although the budget has not been firmly set, the minister said the country plans to invest about 40 billion yuan (5 billion U.S. dollars) over the next ten years on safe water supply projects.
Wang said China is likely to far exceed its UN Millennium Development Goal which was to reduce by half the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015.
Worldwide, one in every six people is without safe, potable water and in China there are more than 50 diseases caused and spread by unsafe water, said Zhai Haohui, Vice Minister of Water Resources.
China's 11th five-year plan for 2006-2010, approved last March, called for safe and portable water to be provided to 100 million rural residents. That target number was raised to 160 million after a State Council conference on rural drinking water safety held on August 30.
Wang said the increased pace in providing drinking water to China's thirsty rural areas is in line with the central government plan to build a new socialist countryside.
According to Wang, the central government will increase investment in rural water supply projects and encourage more private investment in rural infrastructure construction.
Wang said more capital from the central government will flow into the poorer western regions of China in the coming years, with the rich eastern region encouraged to open parts of its rural water supply to investors by offering them favorable investing policies.
Water supply facilities in urban centers will be extended to villages located in city suburbs. Villages far from urban areas will see the construction of water-supply facilities, said the minister.
In areas where local water is contaminated by fluorine, arsenic or high levels of salt, special water-treatment and water supply facilities will be built, said Wang.
Tang Min, chief economist with the China Mission of the the Asian Development Bank (ADB), told Xinhua that the Chinese government's decision to provide accessible potable water to rural people shows that China has aligned itself with the new concept of scientific development and a "people-centered" approach.
Tang, who studied China's rural problems, said great changes have taken place in China's development strategy in recent years. It has shifted from simple pursuit of economic growth to a harmonious development between economy and society.
Statistics with the Ministry of Water Resources said China's per capita water resources are only a quarter of world average level.
The ministry said China has built more than three million rural water supply projects since the country was established in 1949, benefiting 273 million rural residents.
China spent 22.3 billion yuan (2.79 billion dollars) from 2001 to 2005 to provide 67 million people with safe water supplies.
Wang said while China works to resolve its own water problems, the country is contributing more to the international effort to solve the world's water crises. In recent years, China has helped fund 83 water and sanitation projects in developing countries, and dispatched many technologists to African countries where they have worked on local water supply projects.