Speech at the Symposium Urban Drinking Water Safety and Quality Regulation Maria Suokko, Assistant Resident Representative, UNDP China 9 December 2004 Dear Mr. Li Zhendong, Chairman of China Urban Water Supply Association, Ministry of Construction, Ms. Wang Weili, Assistant Director-General, CICETE Ladies and Gentlemen, Good morning! On behalf of UNDP, I would like to extend my congratulations to you at the opening of this symposium and to express my sincere thanks to the Ministry of Construction for organizing this event to exchange and disseminate knowledge and experiences on urban drinking water management. Safe drinking water is a basic necessity for human beings. Target 10 of the Millennium Development Goals calls for halving, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. This is an enormous challenge. Today, about 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water. Every year, 1.7 million people - most of them children - die from water-born diseases and poor sanitation. Safe drinking water is one of the major obstacles on the way towards sustainable future. This critical situation also applies to China. At the national conference on rural drinking water held two weeks ago, it was announced that there are about 300 million people in China with no access to safe drinking water. Lack of access to clean water and poor water quality due to high contents of fluoride, arsenic and bacteria are threatening people’s health in various parts of China. The Ministry of Construction and other line ministries have made consistent efforts to look into ways of improving urban water quality in China. Since 2002, we have worked together to establish a regulatory system on urban water supply in China. Pilot activities have been conducted in Beijing, Shenzhen and Urumqi. As a result, the Regulations on Urban Water Quality have been produced, and the pilot cities have prepared action plans to strengthen the regulatory system. The UNDP-supported project has looked into institutional reform, actively consulted with the stakeholders, and promoted the involvement of private sector in water supply. Access to water quality information by the general public has been improved. Although great achievements have been made in the provision of safe drinking water to urban residents, we must recognize that the challenges are still huge. They are mixed and deeply rooted. A recent report on China’s water resources indicates that about two thirds of China’s cities are short of water supply. China’s water resources per capita are only about one quarter of the world average. From 1992 to 2000, the urban population in China increased by 132 million people and the urbanization rate increased from 28 to 36 percent. At the same time, the government has a goal to quadruple the GDP by 2020, which means that the water consumption for productive uses will inevitably increase. The urban water supply capacity will have to be increased substantially to meet this growing demand. While China is facing a severe water shortage, there are also critical challenges in terms of water pollution. SEPA’s 2003 China Environment Report concludes that the freshwater situation has not improved in the past ten years. The statistics from more than 400 key monitoring points of the 7 major river tributaries report that only 38 percent of the points have reached to the water quality of I-III, a desirable level. More than 60 percent remain polluted or severely polluted. The Chinese Government has done a lot to improve water management. However, the above assessment of the water demand and supply warn us that the economic and social development will not be sustained unless adequate and innovative policies to support good water governance are put in place. I am sure that the participants of this symposium will bring many good comments and recommendations. My input here will limit to three areas: Firstly, there is a need for better coordination among the agencies responsible for water management. Currently, the responsibility has been assigned to several ministries: Ministry of Water Resource, Ministry of Construction, State Environment Protection Administration, Ministry of Health – to name just a few. Not only is the field of responsibilities fragmented, but also the interests are sometimes conflicting. In two of the pilot cities, institutional reform has led to the establishment of a Water Bureau - such as in Beijing and Shenzhen - to streamline and increase efficiency in water management. Although there is no single formula for the correct institutional set-up, it is widely recognized that to ensure urban water safety and quality, there is a need for broad participation of all relevant parties - government agencies, water suppliers, and end-users - with clearly defined mandates and responsibilities. Secondly, better public awareness is needed as the basis for good water governance. The serious state of water pollution can be regarded as a result of shortsighted development approach and even ignorance of the fact that the water resources are scarce. As long as water is viewed as just consumption good and its critical role in nurturing the ecosystems and providing vital ecological services is ignored, sustainable water management is not possible. Public awareness and knowledge on water safety and quality should be targeted, and officials, end-users and the young generation should be included in the awareness-raising activities. The private sector and civil society should play a key role together with the government officials at various levels. Finally, prices should reflect the true cost of water. The price of water is not only one of the main leverages in protection of water resources, but also crucial in raising public attention. After several increases in the water prices in many cities, the government subsidies have been relieved a bit. At the same time, funding has been provided to water conservation and treatment facilities. However, the current water prices are still far below the real cost of protecting and conserving water resources. Consumption of water should be adequately costed to regulate the use and to provide incentives for water saving. I am sure that during these two days, we will hear a lot of constructive recommendations and views. I wish the symposium a great success! Thank you!