China to invest in water for rural poor

China is to invest $5bn over the next decade to bring clean drinking water to 160m villagers - around half of the total number of Chinese deprived of safe water resources - the country's government has said.

State sources estimate that around 312m rural Chinese live in areas where drinking water is either insufficient or polluted with arsenic, fluorine, salt or other substances which make it harmful to human health.

The Chinese government has said it will invest in water infrastructure and water treatment plants in rural areas in the poorer western part of the country, and to encourage private investment in the richer East.

It wants to extend urban water supplies systems to nearby villages, and build new infrastructure in isolated areas.

The plans are part of the government's drive to "build a new socialist countryside," as the state news agency Xinhua put it.

There have been reports of Chinese rural poor increasingly rebelling against the authorities as the countryside is left far behind the galloping development of the cities, plagued by corruption and pollution.

Economic development and population growth have led to China losing a quarter of all wetlands since the 1950s (see related story).

The 300m deprived of drinking water may only be amount to 4% of China's population of 1.3bn, but water scarcity is an issue that affects many more. The country's per capita water availability stands at a quarter of the world average and the situation is likely to worsen as the climate warms.

Faced with a combination of water pollution, desertification and growing demand, the Chinese government made clean water one of the priorities of its latest five year plan for the 2006-2010 period.

Goska Romanowicz



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