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Garbage and sewage facilities among core issues to be tackled
A three-year action plan to improve rural living conditions will help see more effective and targeted measures in solving the most pressing problems in improving rural lives, experts said.
Li Zuojun, from the Research Institute for Resources and Environment Policies under the Development Research Center of the State Council, China"s Cabinet, said that the recently released three-year action plan by central authorities to improve the rural living environment will help map a clear timetable and schedule for more concrete steps.
"Currently, the glaring issue in rural areas is the inadequate garbage sorting and sewage, and the new action plan is prioritizing tackling these issues," Li said.
On Feb 5, the General Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council unveiled the action plan. It aims to achieve remarkable improvements in the rural living environment by 2020. It includes keeping villages clean and tidy, and residents should have enhanced hygiene and health awareness.
Key tasks listed in the action plan include better garbage sorting, toilet upgrades, residential sewage treatments and village management.
Li pointed out that one reason for inadequate garbage sorting and sewage services is the low financial return.
"While the garbage and sewage problems exist in many rural regions, improving such facilities means comparatively little financial return. Thus, central authorities need to provide more financial support to local governments to improve this, while social funds as well as charity groups should also be encouraged to participate," Li said.
Financial support is clearly encouraged in the new action plan. It makes clear that major banks and financial institutions will be required to lend support. China Development Bank, Agricultural Development Bank of China, Agricultural Bank of China, and Postal Savings Bank of China have been advised to increase credit and loans to support related projects. At the same time, private companies are also encouraged to join the plan through the standardized implementation of Public-Private Partnership schemes and franchised businesses.
The plan was released after the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council jointly released a package on Feb 4 of policies as the "No 1 Central Document" of the year, which has charted the roadmap for rural revitalization. The "No 1 Central Document" is the name traditionally given to the first policy statement of the year released by the central authorities and is an indicator of policy priorities.
An unnamed official from the National Development and Reform Commission pointed out in a published interview that the major focus of the plan is to deal with sewage issues.
"In recent years, living conditions in rural areas have seen a great improvement. Yet rural living conditions still see quite uneven development in different areas across the country and lags behind people"s expectations," the official said.
Li, the researcher, said the action plan will help to force factories with high emissions to locate far from villages.
The plan has made clear that by 2020, rural areas in eastern, central and western regions, with a solid base in infrastructure and strong economies, should build well-functioning systems to process all household garbage and sewage and maintain clean restroom facilities, while remote and underdeveloped regions should meet basic hygiene standards.
Yin Peihong, an expert from the policy research center for the environment and economy at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, pointed out that while modern industrial progress has developed rapidly, basic public services and facilities still lag behind.
He said though China has become the world"s second-largest economy, some toilet facilities in rural areas are still little more than rudimentary and are just open pits next to pigsties, leading to problems such as contamination from human waste.
Since 2011, local governments across the country have focused on achieving better living conditions for rural residents. For example, in Zhejiang province, over 90 percent of household garbage in rural regions is processed.