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In 2011, China launched a huge policy and investment drive to bring safe drinking water to the entire country, including its remotest areas.

While city dwellers have mainly demanded better water quality, the drinking water safety issues facing rural Chinese are arguably even more urgent. Some face problems obtaining water at all, while more struggle to get enough clean, accessible and affordable drinking water.

The goals set out in the nationwide “12FYP Rural Safe Drinking Water Project” included access to safe drinking water for 298 million rural residents, and for teachers and students in 114,000 rural schools, and raising the centralized water supply rate to 80%. Investment in rural drinking water safety-related infrastructure construction during the 12FYP was set at 175 billion Chinese yuan.

Investment during the 12FYP built on past initiatives. The Ministry of Health (MoH) launched a nation-wide “rural water supply improvement” project in 1990. Since 2000, the central government has invested almost 300 billion yuan in rural drinking water safety projects.

During the 11th Five Year Plan period (2006-2010), the topic was promoted to a national planning level problem. Three major government bodies - the National Development and Reformation Commission (NDRC), MWR and Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) - jointly released the first "National Rural Drinking Water Safety Project" five-year plan, which received 100.9 billion yuan in government funds, and led to safer drinking water safety for over 210 million rural residents.

Contingency projects have brought “life-saving water” to rural people who either lacked water or didn’t have drinkable water. But the challenges ahead remain substantial.

In 2015, 51.63 million rural residents and 7.04 million rural teachers and students still had unresolved drinking water issues. It is clear that China still faces many challenges in order to meet its rural drinking water safety goals.

One worry is that in the quest to achieve the central government’s goal of “completely solving” rural water problems, construction of supply systems will be completed in a hurry but water supply and quality may not be guaranteed. Liu Wenjun, director of the Division of Drinking Water Safety at Tsinghua University, commented that, “completely solving” rural drinking water problems would involve more of an administrative planning style than the current approach. He added that completely solving the issue for everyone is a “mission impossible.”

Rural drinking water safety faces great challenges to water resources, in terms of both quantity and quality. On one hand, lower overall availability of water to due climate change and overuse of groundwater has led to significant reduction or depletion of groundwater and surface water sources in certain rural areas. The result: some villagers who were helped by previous projects once again lack safe drinking water.

Meanwhile, the quality of rural drinking water sources has deteriorated under the impact of mining, industrial wastewater discharge, excessive pesticide and fertilizer use, livestock breeding, domestic sewage discharge, and improper waste disposal.

Water Resources minister Chen Lei said that the 13FYP would include work on improving rural drinking water quality and the efficiency of water supplies. Steps will be taken to increase rural tap water penetration rate, water supply guarantee rate and water quality levels.

The gLAWcal Team

POREEN project

(Source: China Dialogue)

Thursday, 5 March 2015