From: Gillian Wong, Associated Press
Published August 23, 2006 12:00 AM

China to Spend US$125 Billion to Improve Water Facilities, Combat Pollution

BEIJING — China will spend 1 trillion yuan (US$125 billion; euro100 billion) to improve water treatment and recycling facilities over the next five years as part of efforts to fight the mounting threat of urban water pollution, officials said Tuesday.

The government hopes to lure more foreign technology and investments to such projects, which are crucial because some 278 cities have no sewage treatment plants, said Qiu Baoxing, the deputy construction minister.

"In some areas, the worsening water sources, pollution and the frequent water pollution accidents have seriously threatened the water quality," Qiu said at a news conference. "It is imperative for the water suppliers to strengthen relevant measures in response to the situation."

Beijing regards ensuring safe, reliable water supplies as the most urgent environmental issue facing a country where the population of 1.3 billion people compete for supplies with booming industries.

Attention to the problem has been heightened by a string of industrial accidents that poisoned major rivers, forcing several cities to shut down their water systems.

In addition, portions of central China are suffering this summer from their most severe drought in 50 years. Authorities say lack of rain has left 18 million people without adequate drinking water.

China's current water projects include a 500 billion yuan (US$60 billion; euro50 billion) project to supply its dry north with water from the relatively wet south and renovate 50-year-old water pipe networks, Qiu said.

The government also wants to build water systems that would keep the public supplied with drinking water in case of industrial accidents and to desalinate seawater, he said.

Investment in such projects over the next five years is expected to total 1 trillion yuan, Qiu said.

In China's biggest water-related disaster, a chemical spill into a river in November forced Harbin, the biggest city in the northeast, to suspend running water to 3.8 million people for five days.

The incident raised questions over China's ability to cope with environmental disasters.

Beijing wants to raise foreign investment levels in its water industry, which currently stands at only 10 percent, said Zhang Yue, deputy director of the ministry's urban construction department.

"China is opening its markets to encourage more and more foreign companies to participate in the Chinese water sector," Zhang said. He did not give any details.

Water companies from France, England, and Germany already have invested in China's water supply and treatment projects, Zhang said, adding that they have "contributed a lot to the development of China's water sector with their technologies and experiences."

Last year, China treated 52 percent of the 2 billion cubic meters (70 billion cubic feet) of sewage produced by its huge cities, an improvement from 2000, when only one-third of wastewater was treated, he said.

However, Qiu, the deputy minister, accused some cities of wasting water.

"Some city governments are willing to invest heavily in developing new water sources while neglecting the water-saving work," he said. "Large lawns and water landscape are some of the favorite patterns beloved of the city governments when pursuing urban development."

Source: Associated Press

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