Rural Drinking Water Far From Solved

By Hongqiao Liu 13 March, 2015

Experts say govt's plan to 'completely solve' rural drinking water is a 'mission impossible'. CWR's Liu expands

Rural drinking water issues more urgent than urban yet RMB235 mn less invested in rural water than urban
12FYP rural target to provide water for 298 mn rural Chinese; big challenges remain in quality & quantity
Rural drinking water suffers from 'heavy on construction' and 'light on management'; 13FYP expected to plug gaps

In wake of the upcoming ‘Water Pollution Prevention & Control Action Plan’ China Water Risk and chinadialogue investigated the true status of China’s urban and rural drinking water. This article is part of this investigation. Scroll down for the Chinese version of the article (请向下阅读中文版)。

The full report of the investigation is available in English  & Chinese.

If you are in China and the English report is taking a while to download, please click here.


On 24 November 2014, Premier Li Keqiang visited the Ministry of Water Resource (MWR). His first stop was the Rural Water Division to follow up on the progress of rural drinking water safety projects and plans. According to the 12th Five Year Plan (12FYP), the Chinese government planned to “completely solve rural drinking water safety issues”.

Rural drinking water safety issues more urgent than urban

Compared with the demands of urban residents for higher water quality, the rural population faces drinking water safety issues that are even more urgent. Firstly, there is the issue of having water at all, and then there is the issue of having enough basic, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water.

12FYP target: 298 mn rural residents & 114,000 rural schools to have access to safe drinking water, and 80% centralised water supply rate

According to the ‘12FYP Rural Safe Drinking Water Project’, the goal is for 298 million rural residents as well as teachers and students in 114,000 rural schools to have access to safe drinking water during the period 2011-2015. Additionally, the centralized water supply rate will go up to 80%.

A burdensome task

In order to tackle the drinking water difficulties of the rural population, the Ministry of Health (MoH) launched a nation-wide ‘rural water supply improvement’ project in 1990. Since 2000, the central government has invested almost RMB300 billion into rural drinking water safety projects. During the 11th Five Year Plan period (2006-2010), rural drinking water safety was promoted to a national planning level. In the same period 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. During those five years, the government invested a total of RMB100.9 billion and improved the drinking water safety for over 210 million rural residents.

RMB235 mn less invested in rural water than urban during 12FYP

During the 12FYP investment in rural drinking water safety-related infrastructure construction is expected to reach RMB175 billion. Although, compared with the RMB410 billion investment in urban water supply, RMB175 billion seems relatively low, it is still the largest investment in rural drinking water in recent years.

Contingency projects by the government brought “life-saving water” to rural people who either lacked water or didn’t have drinkable water. But the task remains burdensome. By the end of 2010, there were still over 400 million rural people collecting water directly from water sources with either no facilities, or with only very simple water supply delivery systems. This accounts for 42% of the rural population. Among them, 85.72 million people have no water supply facilities at all and get their water directly from rivers, streams and ponds.

Among the 298 million rural residents with drinking water safety problems to be addressed during the 12FYP, 105 million have substandard quality water and 91.3 million face water shortages to varying degrees.

Big challenges remain
Drinking water still an issue for 52 mn rural residents in 2015

According to the MWR, by the beginning of 2015, drinking water issues of 51.63 million rural residents as well as 7.04 million rural teachers and students remain unresolved.

2015 is an important year as it is the deadline for 12FYP targets. However, it is clear that China still faces many challenges in order to meet its rural drinking water safety goals.

Big challenges ahead in quantity and quality

The remaining unsolved tasks are all “hard bones”, said Premier Li Keqiang during his visit to the MWR in November 2014.

Remaining tasks are all “hard bones”

Premier Li Keqiang

A staff member involved in the mid-term evaluation of the ‘National Rural Drinking Water Safety Project 12FYP’ revealed that a group of experts submitted an assessment of early achievements and problems with the projects in the first half of the 12FYP. A worry is that in the quest to achieve the central government’s goal of “completely solving” rural water problems by 2015, construction will be completed in a hurry but water supply and quality might still not be guaranteed.

“completely solving” rural drinking water is a ‘mission impossible’

Liu Wenjun, director of Division of Drinking Water Safety with Tsinghua University commented that, “completely solving” rural drinking water problems would involve more of an administrative planning style than is the current approach. He added that completely solving the issue for everyone is a ‘mission impossible’.

Liu explains that, rural drinking water is a complex issue. He worries that there will always be people who are missed out. These are usually people living in remote areas with no, or only poor quality water due to geographical limitations. Moreover, with limited economic conditions, it is extremely difficult to solve the drinking water issue for these people.

The initiative project ‘A Glass of Clean Water’ conducted a survey in nearly 100 villages and 6 schools across 11 provinces in China. The survey found that local governments have favoured large-scale, low-cost rural drinking water construction projects with larger numbers of beneficiaries in an effort to achieve central government goals. As a result, remote and small-scale projects have lagged.

Water resource challenges are in both quantity and quality, with added pressures from climate change & industrial growth

Rural drinking water safety in China faces great challenges on water resources, in means of both quantity and quality. On one hand, the reduction in incoming water, climate change and overuse of groundwater has led to significant reduction or depletion of groundwater and surface water sources in certain rural areas. This means that some of the people who were helped through previous projects are once again facing a lack of safe drinking water. On the other hand, mining, industrial wastewater discharge, excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, livestock breeding and domestic sewage discharge, as well as improper waste disposal in rural areas, has led to the deterioration of the quality of rural drinking water sources.

With these exacerbating factors in mind, the actual drinking water quality in rural China needs urgent attention. At present, rural drinking water quality is regulated by a “less stringent” version of the ‘National Drinking Water Quality Standard’, some indicators are relaxed. Whether rural drinking water can meet the standard remains unclear. Official channels rarely disclose information on this and yet the rural drinking water crisis is widely reported by media across the country.

Unclear water price mechanism, lack of  human resources & securing funding pose threats to rural solve

The report “China’s Long March To Safe Drinking Water” jointly released by China Water Risk and chinadialogue examines the above challenges and more. Key issues threating rural drinking water safety in the report are: an unclear water price mechanism, lack of sustainable projects, lack of human resources and securing funding for existing and future projects. The report highlights that rural drinking water safety is “heavy on construction” and “light on management”.

13FYP expected to tackle efficiency, increasing rural tap water penetration & more

2015 is a “decisive year” of the 12FYP and it is a year of preparation for the 13FYP. MWR Minister, Chen Lei, said in a conference in January that the 13FYP would include work related to improving rural drinking water quality and the efficiency of water supply. Steps will be taken to increase rural tap water penetration rate, water supply guarantee rate and water quality levels.


 农村饮水尚存诸多挑战
饮用水安全将是即将出台的《水污染防治行动规划》(也即“水十条”)的重要内容。在“水十条”将出之际,中国水危机与中外对话试图在联合报告《安全饮用水:中国的艰难长征》中对中国城市与农村供水的实际状况一探究竟。
欢迎下载报告(中文版英文版)了解更多详情。
如果您身在国内而无法打开上面的英文版链接,请点击这里


2014年11月24日,国务院总理李克强到访水利部。第一站,便来到农村水利司,了解农村饮水安全工程规划进展情况。“十二五”期间,中国政府计划“全面解决农村饮水安全问题”。

相较于城镇居民对水质的苛求,农村人口所面对的饮水安全问题更为现实——首先是有水喝,再是有足量、洁净、可负担的水喝。

根据《全国农村饮水安全工程“十二五”规划》,中国拟在 2015年底解决2.98亿农村人口和11.4万所农村学校师生的安全饮水问题,并将集中供水率提高至80%。
任务沉重
为解决农村人口“饮水难”的问题,1990年起,原卫生部在全国范围开展“农村改水”工作。2000年起,中央政府开始对农村安全饮水工程进行大规模投资。十余年间,中央政府已累计在农村安全饮水安全工程上投入近3000亿。“十一五”期间,农村饮水安全工作升级为国家规划,国家发改委协同水利部、原卫生部和环保部发布了首个《全国农村饮水安全工程》五年规划。五年间,国家累计安排投资1009亿元,解决了2.1亿农村居民的饮水安全问题。
“十二五”期间,用于农村饮水安全工程建设的静态总投资预期达到1750亿元。与同期4100亿元的城镇供水投资相比,1750亿元是个小数目,但已为历年农村饮水安全投资规模之最。
这些“应急”工程,为缺水或无水可喝的农村居民送上了“救命水”。但是,农村饮水安全任务依旧沉重。截至2010年底,全国仍有4亿多农村人口的生活饮用水采取直接从水源取水、未经任何设施或仅有简易设施的分散供水方式,占全国农村供水人口的42%,其中8572万人无供水设施,直接从河、溪、坑塘取水。
在“十二五”规划的2.98亿不安全饮水人口中,1.05亿人饮用水水质不达标,9130万人面临不同程度的缺水问题。
水利部消息称,截止2015年初,“十二五”规划内,还剩余5163万农村居民和704万农村学校师生饮水安全问题尚未得到解决。
2015年是“十二五”的收官年,因此尤为重要。而距离实现农村安全饮用水的目标,仍然面临诸多挑战。
供水和水质皆挑战重重
李克强在前述视察期间坦诚,农村饮水安全工程剩下的都是“硬骨头”。
一位工作人员透露,《全国农村饮水安全工程“十二五”规划》的中期评估报告对“十二五”前半个时期的成就与问题进行了评价。一个担忧:为完成“全面解决”的中央任务,很可能到了2015年年末,各地规划的工程建设会紧急完工,但无法保证供水。
清华大学清华大学饮用水安全中心主任刘文君则评论说,“全面解决”带有鲜明的计划色彩,是“不可能完成的任务”。他解释说,中国农村饮水安全问题情况复杂,对于那些处于偏远地区,受到地理条件限制,无水可用或水质不好的农村饮水不安全人口,经济条件也有限,要解决喝水问题非常困难。
民间组织创绿中心的“一杯干净水”项目组曾对全国11省(市)的近百个村庄和6所学校进行饮水安全调研。调研结果显示,一些地方政府为完成中央任务,更倾向于建设成本低、受益人群大的较大规模农饮工程,而一些地处偏僻的小型饮水工程建设相对滞后。
农村饮用水水源已经面临水量和水质的双重挑战。一方面,由于水源来水减少,气候变化和地下水超采等原因,一些原本已经通过工程方式解决的农村人口,又重新面临安全饮水问题。另一方面,采矿、工业废水排放、农药化肥使用不合理、畜禽养殖和生活污水排放、农村垃圾处理不当等原因,导致农村饮用水水源水质恶化。
在此背景下,农村饮用水水质的实际情况,亟待关注。现阶段,农村饮用水水质虽执行《生活饮用水卫生标准》的放宽标准,但水质达标情况如何,官方渠道鲜有披露。媒体曝光的农村饮水危机却遍布全国。
中国水危机/中外对话联合发布的调查报告《安全饮用水:中国的艰难长征》对中国农村饮水安全面临的主要问题进行了分析。报告指出,农村饮水安全工程存在“重建轻管”的问题,水价机制不清、专业人员匮乏、维护基金缺乏等问题,威胁着农村安全饮水工程的可持续性。
2015年是”十二五”的“决战年”,也是“十三五”规划的筹备年。在2015年1月29日的全国农村饮水安全工作视频会议上,水利部部长陈雷对“十三五”提出了新目标:开展农村饮水提质增效,进一步提高农村自来水普及率、供水保证率、水质合格率。


Further Reading

  • Pollution Prevention: What’s The Plan? – The ‘Water Ten’, expected to be released during the National People’s Congress 2015 hasn’t been. So, what’s Beijing’s plan with pollution so clearly on everyone’s mind; though mainly air pollution with “Under the Dome”? CWR’s Dawn McGregor and Hongqiao Liu expand
  • Water Source: Who Is Responsible? – Data shows water source quality improving but some experts question how accurate this can be without a specific standard? Moreover, pollutants, ineffective treatment & unclear ministry responsibilities pose threats. CWR’s Hongqiao Liu expands
  • Drinking Water Safety Faces “The Big Test” – In wake of the upcoming ‘Water Pollution Prevention & Control Action Plan’ China Water Risk & chinadialogue investigated the true status of China’s urban and rural drinking water
  • Environmental Law: A New Era – Professor Wang Canfa from the University of Political Science and Law in Beijing thinks China has a relatively perfect system on environmental law and that the amended law marks a new era. See why
  • China Water Investments: 3 Thoughts – Investing in the water sector looks attractive with the Chinese government & consumers wanting water tariff hikes. Will water supply or wastewater treatment be the larger market? Debra Tan shares some on-ground views distilled from recent conversations

 

Hongqiao Liu
Author: Hongqiao Liu
Hongqiao is China Water Risk’s external researcher. She is an award-winning environmental & science journalist and prior to joining China Water Risk, she worked for leading Chinese media: Caixin Media and the Southern Metropolis Daily. Her investigative stories published by Caixin on tap water quality, contaminated farmland and diseases caused by environmental pollution brought about lasting public debate and cast positive impacts on policy makers. Hongqiao has lived and worked across China and South Africa.
Read more from Hongqiao Liu →