World Water Congress In Beijing

World Water Congress
Take a look at the sponsors of this to know what this is really all about.
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Hmm, this is just downright ironic that Beijing is hosting this Congress. And I wonder, would all these promises be made were China not hosting the 2008 Olympics? I find it hard to believe that they actually care for the people. If they did, they would have fixed their infrastructure long before this.
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ENVIRONMENT-CHINA:
Fitting Venue for World Water Congress
Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING, Sep 8 (IPS) - When the World Water Congress convenes this weekend in Asia for the first time, the choice of the Chinese capital would be nothing but befitting. The 1.3 billion people of the world's most populous country have at their disposal only a quarter of the water per person that is available on average around the world.

But China's water woes go far beyond the scarcity of water resources. Pollution has left nearly half of the water in China's rivers suitable only for agricultural and industrial use, making fresh drinking water a luxury for many of China's 800 million peasants.

It would cost China about 136 billion US dollars, close to 7 percent of its GDP, to clean up all the pollution pumped into the country's environment just in 2004. Most of the money has to be put towards water pollution, announced the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), this week.

"These are figures that are extremely alarming, and show the environmental situation is very serious," Pan Yue, head of the national environmental protection watchdog, said in the SEPA report, released Sep. 7.

China will be looking to the 5th World Water Congress, held in Beijing Sep. 10-14, to tap the latest technology and attract more foreign participation in its water industry. Foreign investment in the water sector currently accounts for only 10 percent of the total, but Beijing hopes to raise this drastically.

More than 2,000 water experts and government officials from various countries and international organizations are expected to attend the congress.

The forum will provide a "valuable platform to bring in advanced ideas, technologies and experiences in the water sector," Qiu Baoxing, vice-minister of construction, told a news briefing. "It will benefit both China and the world".

Qiu said China hoped to get expertise on how to deal with the acute shortage of water resources and its ever increasing water demand. "China is at the crossroads in dealing with water problems," he declared.

Nearly three decades of breakneck economic growth, with little attention paid to ecological degradation, has taken its toll on the country's meagre water resources --already strained by rapid urbanization and population growth.

Currently, 312 million Chinese villagers are facing water shortages and unsafe water supply, contaminated with fluorine, arsenic, high levels of salt or other industrial pollutants, minister of water resources Wang Shucheng told the state news agency Xinhua this week.

China's urban water environment is worsening too. About 400 of China's 600 odd cities are short of water, according to the water ministry. In Beijing and some 100 other cities, the shortages are deemed to be "extreme".

If left untackled, in 2008 -- the year Beijing plays host to the Olympic Games -- the water crisis would leave the Chinese capital short by up to 1.1 billion cu metres of water, the ministry predicts.

Water scarcity threatens China's food security as well. A persistent drought this summer has affected the lives of 17 million people in central and south-western China and has caused crops to dry up in the fields.

"Overall, some 10 percent of China's grain harvest is being produced by over pumping of water, which means it is not sustainable," says environmentalist Lester Brown, director of the U.S.-based Earth Policy Institute.

Despite the seriousness of the crisis, Chinese leaders have shied away from raising water prices to promote water conservation. Experts say current prices are not enough to make farmers conserve water.

"Raising water prices is not the right option for China because rural incomes are not high," Qiu asserted.

As rural areas have fallen behind the cities in their development, public resentment and social unrest have become some of the main worries for the government in the countryside.

Protests against polluting industries and lack of water have become a common sight across Chinese villages, as the environment has all too often been sacrificed in the pursuit of single-minded profit.

Rather than risk social unrest by raising water prices significantly, Beijing has announced it will spend about 1 trillion yuan (125 billion dollars) over the next five years to improve urban water security and build sewage treatment systems. Another 5 billion dollars are allocated to improve the water supply in rural areas..

Water minister Wang Shucheng vowed this week that by 2015 all the 300 million peasants who currently lack clean drinking water would be provided with safe, potable water.

Wang said China is likely to far exceed its United Nations Millennium Development Goal which was to reduce by half the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015.

But an editorial in the official ‘China Daily' warned that all the government investment will not be enough to solve China's water crisis, if promises to clean up the country's filthy rivers are not followed by concrete action.

"The wish list the ministry of water resources has delivered for rural residents without access to safe drinking water is a proper commitment," it said. "But it is one thing to put a target on a wish list. Achieving it is a challenge of a different order of magnitude." (END/2006)

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