The legislature of southern Guangdong Province, an economic engine of China, is creating a law to protect its supply of drinking water.
The draft of the law will be discussed in the Guangdong Provincial People's Congress in August and there is no time to delay in ensuring the safety of drinking water through legal means, said Yuan Zheng, deputy director of the Environment and Resources Protection Committee under the congress.
Guangdong's fate is not exceptional in China. As the world's largest developing nation, China is suffering from an increasingly serious crisis in drinking water safety as it has made rapid economic development.
More than 70 percent of China's rivers and lakes are polluted to varying extent, said Gu Hao, spokesman for the Ministry of Water Resources.
To provide clean drinking water is the top priority of the Chinese government's efforts to protect water resources and the ministry plans to start with water pollution control, said Gu.
"Things like the dry climate and special geologic conditions endanger water safety in some areas, while, for more areas, pollution is the 'arch-foe' of drinking water," said Gu.
Guangdong is a case in point.
Though the province has built a lot of sewage treatment plants in recent years, the waste water discharge volume has risen. A chain of major environmental hazards have also worsened the water quality in urban cities, said Gu.
The water supply of Harbin, northeast China, was shut down for four days last November after about 4 million people were affected after the Songhua River incurred serious pollution because of a chemical plant spill upstream.
Less than one month later, a spill of more than 1,000 tons of heavy cadmium contaminated water from a smelting plant in Guangdong polluted the Beijiang River, reducing the water supply for more than 20 towns and cities.
Compared to the cities, the water safety situation is more worrying in China's vast rural areas with over two thirds of the country's population, Gu acknowledged.
More than 300 million people in rural areas do not have adequate clean drinking water and hundreds of thousands of Chinese are afflicted with various diseases from drinking water that contains too much fluorine, arsenic, sodium sulfate or bitter salt, said the spokesman.
The cruel reality of water safety has aroused the attention of the Chinese government. President Hu Jintao has instructed local and provincial governments to put drinking water resources protection on top of their agendas.
China spent 2 billion yuan (about US$250 million) to help 11 million members of the rural population access to drinking water in 2005 and the input would be doubled this year with another 20 million farmers expected to have safe water to drink, said Gu.
China would lower the population faced with drinking water problems to a third by 2010 and ensure safe drinking water for every one by 2020, said Gu.
"To hit the target, the government will provide guarantee investment for project construction," Gu said. "The ministry will map out a comprehensive plan and put it into practice this year."
In addition, large-scale pollution control work was carried out on major rivers.
The discharge of waste will be curbed, sewage treatment facilities will be improved and those responsible for the majority of the pollution will be closed down, said Zhou Shengxian, head of the State Environmental Protection Administration.
More than 700 engineering staff from the Ministry of Water Resources are probing the pollution of drinking water sources in Guangdong to provide first-hand information for local government to carry out proper water sources management, said Yuan Zheng.
"The activities leading to water pollution are crimes and should receive due penalty," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency March 17, 2006)