The Water Sector Determines to Win the Battle against Poverty
H. E. Mr. E Jingping
Minister of Water Resources, P.R. China
In his important speech delivered at the Symposium for A Decisive Victory in the Battle against Poverty (“Symposium”), General Secretary Xi Jinping issued to the whole Party, the whole country and the whole society the order to clinch a complete victory in the battle against poverty, and emphasized the determination to complete this cause that is of enormous significance to the Chinese nation and the entire human race. His remarks provide us with the fundamental guidance and a strong impetus to tackle the bottlenecks in securing a decisive victory against poverty.
With water conservancy being the fundamental support and guarantee for winning the battle against poverty, the water sector plays a crucial role in the overall national layout of poverty alleviation. The Party Committee of the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR) earnestly studied and resolutely implemented the spirit of General Secretary Xi’s remarks on poverty alleviation, especially those delivered at the Symposium, further raised the “4 Consciousnesses”, bolstered the “4 Confidences” and practiced the “2 Defends”. Regarding winning the battle against poverty through water conservancy as a major political task, this year the MWR has carried out nine special studies on implementation measures, convened a national symposium on water conservancy for poverty alleviation and a symposium for fixed-point poverty alleviation through water conservancy, developed priorities for poverty eradication in the water sector, and prepared statistical work records. With greater determination, more solid steps and better work style, we will identify gaps, address deficiencies, consolidate achievements, overcome the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, improve weak aspects of water projects and strengthen supervision over the water sector in impoverished areas, speed up the fulfillment of all tasks, and make all-out endeavors to win the battle against poverty through water conservancy. As such, we will render strong water-related support to the completion of poverty elimination targets and the building of a moderately prosperous society on all fronts as scheduled.
Keep a close watch on the targets to ensure drinking water safety for the impoverished population as scheduled
To comprehensively address the lack of access to safe drinking water for the poverty-stricken population is an important task in achieving the goal of ensuring that the rural poor do not have to worry about food and clothing and have access to compulsory education, basic medical services and safe housing. It is also a rigid indicator and set task for the water sector in supporting poverty reduction. No ambiguity is allowed in this regard. Over the 13th Five-Year-Plan period, our efforts have improved water supply security for 227 million rural residents, among whom 17.07 million impoverished people have gained access to safe drinking water. However, some projects still need to be completed; the supply of safe drinking water is unstable in some localities; and seasonal water shortage still exists. We must firmly adhere to the goal of comprehensively solving the problem of safe drinking water for the poverty-stricken population, accelerate the completion of pending projects, strengthen project operation, management and maintenance, and ensure that the projects are successfully completed, well managed, and benefit the people in the long run.
(1) We will work hard to enable the remaining impoverished population timely access to safe drinking water. For areas where the construction projects are still in process, the departments and bureaus of the MWR will be assigned to the concerned counties for “one-on-one” supervision, statistical records will be prepared for each village and rural household, and count-down arrangements made for the construction periods to control the critical stages and pace up progress. All these aim at ensuring completion of all construction tasks by the end of June 2020. At the same time, we will accelerate efforts to address excessive fluoride in drinking water by means of water source replacement, purification and relocation of the local population to lift them out of poverty.
(2) We will comprehensively strengthen the operation, management and maintenance of rural drinking water projects. Particular focus will be placed on the management and maintenance of such projects to ensure that the impoverished people have long-term stable access to safe drinking water. Focusing on water tariff collection – the key to the issue, a layered accountability system will be put in place to ensure drinking water safety in rural areas, i.e., the local people’s governments will be held accountable as the main actors, the water authorities will be responsible for supervision of the water industry, and the water supply administrations for operation and management of the projects. At the same time, we will enhance the operation and management of rural drinking water projects in terms of institutional set-up, measures and funding to ensure effective operation and long-term benefits of the projects. In addition, we will work with the ecological and environmental authorities to accelerate the protection of water sources and ensure water quality of water supply projects.
(3) We will conduct thorough screenings to prevent the resurgence of problems. Among others, we will establish rural drinking water emergency-response plans at the county level in poor areas. Under our regular screening mechanism, dynamic adjustments will be made to the statistics on poverty-stricken population that have access to safe drinking water, i.e., promptly identify additional population unable to access safe drinking water due to natural disasters, changes in water sources, and deficient operation, management and maintenance of water supply projects, so as to address the problems and prevent their resurgence. Problems found in the CPC Central Committee’s special anti-poverty inspection programs such as the “Looking Back” initiative will be rectified in a serious manner to ensure that such problems are effectively addressed.
Zero in on weak points and accelerate endeavors to improve deficient water infrastructure in impoverished areas
Construction of water infrastructure for irrigation and drainage of farmland, flood control and drought relief and soil and water conservation are closely related to consolidating the achievements of poverty alleviation. In the past two years, the MWR Party Committee mobilized the entire water sector to promote such construction in poor areas, resulting in significant improvement in their water conservancy conditions. However, it should also be noted that some poor areas still need to fundamentally reverse the situation of weak water conservancy infrastructure. In particular, extremely impoverished localities such as the “three regions and three prefectures” are “the hardest nuts to crack”. In the final year of the battle against poverty, all accounts must be settled. We must target the existing gaps and deficiencies, focus on areas in extreme poverty, continuously increase support, give priority to water conservancy projects in extremely deprived areas, address bottleneck constraints, and build a solid water conservancy foundation for poverty alleviation.
(1) We will speed up the construction of farmland irrigation and drainage projects in poor areas. In particular, we will complete the planned tasks relating to the expansion, supplementation and water-saving renovation of large and medium-sized irrigation areas in poor localities, and ensure security of irrigation water supply to increase production and income.
(2) We will vigorously harness small and medium-sized rivers, reinforce risky reservoirs, build small and medium-sized reservoirs, and prevent and control flash floods. Among others, we will strengthen early warning and monitoring of flash floods and disseminate the information thereof to constantly enhance disaster prevention and mitigation in poor areas.
(3) We will carry out key soil and water conservation projects, such as comprehensive harnessing of watersheds and reinforcement of risky warping dams in poor areas, to promote integration of ecological protection and poverty alleviation.
(4) We will organize effective implementation of major in-progress water projects in poor areas such as the water diversion project in central Yunnan Province and the water transfer projects in Jiayan and the northwestern part of Guizhou Province to ensure early completion and early benefit of these projects. Above all, we will race against time to ensure effective preliminary demonstration of proposed major water projects so that their construction could be started as soon as possible.
(5) We will make solid progress in building rural hydropower projects to help alleviate poverty, turn in to the central government the full proportion of return on investment, and help more registered impoverished households to benefit from the projects.
(6) We will implement the poverty alleviation policy for reservoir-related relocation, expand income-increase channels for the relocated population, and help them become moderately prosperous at the same pace with the rest of the nation.
At present, we need to put in place precise targeted measures to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and effectively solve issues such as project review and approval, material supply, and access of personnel and machinery to premises, so as to speed up the resumption of work and production for projects on poverty alleviation through water conservancy.
Leverage advantages of the water sector to vigorously help targeted areas shake off poverty at a quicker pace
Pursuant to the arrangement of the central government, the MWR has undertaken the tasks of fixed-point poverty elimination in Chongqing municipality and in six counties (prefectures) of Hubei Province, serving as the focal point in rocky desertification areas in Yunnan, Guangxi and Guizhou, and providing one-to-one assistance to the concerned areas. Giving full play to its sectoral advantages and working closely with relevant localities, the ministry pushed forward fruitful implementation of various support measures. The six counties (prefectures) for fixed-point poverty eradication have been basically lifted out of poverty, while other localities have also made decisive progress. However, we still need to crack “the hardest nuts” to complete the poverty alleviation tasks on all fronts and do lots of extra work to consolidate the achievements of poverty mitigation. Therefore, we must focus on priorities, set clear goals and leverage our strengths to ensure successful fulfillment of our support tasks.
(1) In localities for fixed-point poverty alleviation, we will continue to vigorously implement the “Eight Major Projects”, i.e., support projects with preferential treatment from the water sector, sectoral support projects for poor households, skills training projects for poor households, work-study projects for poor students, technical support projects for water conservancy construction, projects for training of technical talents, projects for supporting impoverished villages to build up their Party branches for promotion of poverty alleviation, and support project for internal guidance and external outreach. In this end, we will proactively lobby for projects and funding to boost local economic development, enhance support for industry growth and development of public infrastructure, improve poverty alleviation by job creation and through stimulation of consumption, strengthen intellectual support for talent cultivation, and thereby stimulate endogenous drivers for growth in the poverty-stricken areas.
(2) We will dutifully perform our responsibilities as the focal point of the concerned localities, coordinate with members of the joint inter-ministerial meeting of these localities to enhance support thereto, help them address difficulties and problems encountered in industry development with local features, construction of infrastructure, improvement of public services, relocation for poverty reduction, control of desertification, and ensuring that the rural poor do not have to worry about food and clothing and have access to compulsory education, basic medical services and safe housing. All these will help accelerate regional development and implementation of poverty alleviation plans in such localities.
(3) We will continue to vigorously implement the programs for poverty alleviation through water conservancy in counterpart localities of one-to-one assistance, favor such localities in terms of project, technology, information, funding, human resources and policy, and further improve the water conservancy profiles of these localities with the use of comprehensive support measures.
Adhere to problem orientation and comprehensively strengthen supervision over the water sector in impoverished areas
The reform and development of the water sector in poor areas are relatively lagging behind, due to inadequate water conservancy infrastructure and large historical deficits, as well as weak management and inadequate supervision of the water sector. Therefore, we must focus on the prominent problems in water-related management in poor areas, strengthen ad hoc oversight and routine supervision, address deep-rooted institutional issues, consolidate and expand achievements in poverty alleviation, and meet the needs of the people in more satisfactory ways.
(1) We will focus on managing rivers and lakes in better ways. Among others, the River Chief and Lake Chief systems will be used to push for normalizing and standardizing the “elimination of the four random practices” along rivers and lakes and expand the coverage of such elimination from major rivers and lakes to include small and medium-sized rivers as well as rural rivers and lakes (or to achieve a complete coverage of all rivers and lakes), which will address random placement and heaping of garbage, illegal/unauthorized construction of private dwellings, and illegal/unauthorized plantation and/or aquatic production along rural rivers and lakes, and thereby improve the rural living environment.
(2) We will comprehensively strengthen the operation and management of water projects. The operation and management of small reservoirs, rural water supply projects and “last one mile” projects in irrigation areas are directly related to the work and life of the poverty-stricken population. Hence, we need to urge the local stakeholders to fully implement their water project management responsibility, enhance their project management systems, intensify oversight of project management and maintenance in terms of institutional setup, personnel and fund availability, and establish virtuous operation mechanisms, so as to ensure that water projects are managed with adequate human and financial resources and to good effect. This year, the MWR will conduct large-scale unannounced inspections, focusing on the collection of water tariffs for water supply projects and formulate special accountability measures, in a view to achieving the targets of all centralized rural water supply projects charging water tariffs and all water users paying water tariffs by the end of 2020. In addition, through enhanced supervision of the water sector, we will build up grassroots human resources for water management, create more pro bono management service jobs, enable more impoverished people to access the labor market, and open up channels for stable income to help poor families get rid of poverty.
Step up the down-to-earth work style to constantly improve the work quality of poverty elimination through water conservancy
With the fight against poverty coming to a critical juncture, it is increasingly imperative for us to focus on the final steps. We must not stop, neither should we relax or become careless. Instead, we must carry out all our work effectively with a down-to-earth attitude.
(1) The responsibility for securing a victory against poverty must be effectively performed. With perseverance and resilience, we will never quit until a full victory is clinched. We will fulfill our responsibilities by layer, specify the time limit and requirements for each task, and hold each post and each person accountable for the corresponding responsibilities. Members of the MWR top management will lead respective teams to the extremely impoverished areas, i.e., the “three regions and three prefectures”, to connect water projects and poverty alleviation projects on the ground. As the primary responsible persons in supporting poverty alleviation with water conservancy, those in charge of the Party branches at all levels in the water sector shall conduct research, make arrangements and promote implementation in person.
(2) The support policies must be implemented. We will continue to have our support policies favor poverty-stricken areas, especially the extremely impoverished ones, accelerate the decentralization of central government investment in water conservancy, and actively coordinate with provincial public finance to increase investment in water conservancy. As a general principle, water conservancy investment in impoverished counties will only be allowed to grow. We will conscientiously execute the work programs for helping the poor areas develop their talent pools, and at the same time effectively train managerial personnel for poverty alleviation through water conservancy and cultivate talents in this regard. More efforts will also be made to alleviate poverty with the use of water science and technology and help the poverty-stricken areas tackle technological barriers and apply new technologies.
(3) Basic work must be carried out efficiently and effectively. We will organize one-on-one supervision and inspection of all work related to water conservancy for poverty alleviation, and produce good statistics on poverty alleviation through water conservancy to ensure that its quality stands the test. Our efforts in this regard will focus on the implementation of policies on water conservancy for poverty alleviation, utilization and management of funds, progress in project implementation, and achievements in poverty alleviation in impoverished areas. In addition, we will conduct in-depth policy research on poverty alleviation through water conservancy, and put forward ideas and measures regarding the construction of a long-term mechanism for water conservancy to support the alleviation of relative poverty in rural areas after 2020, which will effectively connect with the strategy on rural revitalization. Further, we will fully leverage the “12314” hotline service platform for supervision of the water sector and lodging of complaints to promptly collect issues raised by the general public.
(4) We must keep a tight grip on our work style. For one thing, we will continue to push forward special governance programs for combating corruption and problematic work styles in water conservancy for poverty alleviation, and further reduce the numbers of meetings to be held, documents to be issued and forms to be filled out. The grass-roots level should not be required to provide any material that could be sorted out by internal departments of the MWR themselves. The “4 Without and 2 Straight” will be the main pattern for conducting survey, guidance, supervision and inspection so that the grass-roots level will be effectively relieved of burdens while formalism and bureaucracy could be strictly avoided.