Source water protection key to ensuring drinking water safety in rural China

Posted on 20 October 2010
Beijing, China – Better protection of source water is the most effective way of ensuring clean drinking water in China’s rural areas, a new report says.

Released on 20 October 2010, Management Practice on Rural Drinking Water Safety Projects in China was compiled by the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources and WWF China and is the country’s first ever large-scale review of rural drinking water safety projects.

The report says rapid economic development has taken a heavy toll on China’s water resources, with many sources of drinking water used by hundreds of millions people now polluted. Poor quality of natural water and pollution in source areas are the two main threats to drinking water safety in rural China. Harmful discharges from rural businesses, overuse of fertilizers and other chemicals, intensive livestock and poultry farming, poor solid waste management and inefficient wastewater treatment facilities are some of the major reasons why water in the countryside isn’t reaching national standards.

But solutions do exist. The report says better conservation of source water areas, improved watershed management, better water quality monitoring and a higher level of public awareness could help improve the quality of drinking water at the source.

“In China, one third of rivers and lakes are now polluted and more than half of the lakes nationwide suffer from various degrees of ecological damage,” says Dr. Zhu Chunquan, WWF China Conservation Director of Biodiversity. “A healthy freshwater ecosystem and the protection of source water are the basis for drinking water safety.”

A 2005 Ministry of Water Resources survey found that 320 million people in rural China did not have access to safe drinking water. About 91 million of these individuals were directly affected by source water pollution of some kind.

From 2006 to 2010, China launched a major drinking water safety project focused on its vast rural areas. The Chinese government says the project has been immensely successful, providing safe drinking water to 220 million people.

However, as the economy develops, polluted drinking water at the source continues to be a problem in the countryside. “Protection of source water in rural areas is still a weak link. There is a lack of policy support as well as strong technology and funding,” Academician Wang Hao from the Chinese Academy of Engineering points out.

One potential solution the report specifically identifies for rural areas is a WWF demonstration project in Yuantian Village, located at a source water area near the southwestern city of Chengdu.  The Yuantian village project offers a cost-effective approach that helps clean up the water supply by integrating river restoration, artificial wetland construction, biogas digesters and sustainable agriculture. Intial reports suggest that 1,400 villagers have directly benefited from the project.

For more information contact
Ms. Yue Ada Wu, Press Officer, WWF-China

+86 10- 65116272, +86 18601322173,