BEIJING, Dec 19 (Reuters) – China expects to bring potable water to 100 million rural residents by 2010, a state newspaper said on Monday, but that would still leave more than 200 million people with unsafe supplies.
Plagued by droughts and shortages, China is currently unable to provide clean drinking water to 360 million people, with supplies affected by everything from salinity to arsenic, the China Daily said.
Too much fluoride in the water affects over 63 million people in northern China, while salty water is a problem for 38 million in northern and eastern coastal regions, the newspaper said.
In other parts of the country such as the barren northwestern areas of Xinjiang, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia, some two million people are being slowly poisoned by arsenic in the water, it said.
Per capita water availability in China is about a quarter of the world average and is expected to fall further, according to state media, while less than half the waste water in the cities is treated and around 20 percent is lost through leaky pipes.
Heavy pollution of rivers across China also makes much of its available water undrinkable. An explosion at a chemical plant in northeastern China last month caused over 100 tonnes of toxins to leak into a nearby river, forcing authorities to cut water supplies to millions of people.
Parts of southern China have been hit this year by months of drought which destroyed farmland, dried up rivers and reservoirs and allowed salt water to wash upstream and contaminate fresh water supplies.
To alleviate China’s water woes, the government is spending billions of dollars to divert supplies from the water-logged middle of the country and send it northwards through a series of giant canals.
The first stage of the scheme, known as the South-North water diversion project, is scheduled to come on line in 2010, the China Daily cited water resources minister Wang Shucheng as saying. It will supply cities such as Beijing and Tianjin.
The project has, however, been affected by a lack of clean water to pump and doubts among some environmentalists that enough water will reach its destination before evaporating or being lost to leaks.