The government has set goals to reduce pollution in the countryside and improve the environmental quality of drinking water sources by 2010, according to a document released recently.
In particular, it will increase the use of soil testing to minimize the damage caused by fertilizers and pesticides, and also boost the volume of waste materials - crop straw, domestic waste, livestock excrement and sewage - treated by at least 10 percent, the paper, which was jointly issued by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) and several government departments on Tuesday, said.
It also said that by 2010, 65 percent of people in rural areas will have access to sanitary toilets, as part of a comprehensive plan for controlling environmental pollution.
The government has been steadily increasing its efforts to improve the environmental situation in the country's rural areas.
SEPA chief Zhou Shengxian said recently that the timeframe for ensuring the provision of safe drinking water across the countryside had been reduced from 15 years to 10.
Yesterday's document reiterated Zhou's words. It said: "Guaranteeing the safety of drinking water is the primary focus of environmental protection efforts in rural China."
The paper ordered the construction of more reservoirs in rural areas, and called for better monitoring and exploitation of underground water sources.
However, the targets will not be easy to achieve, Zhou said, as some 300 million people in rural areas are currently without access to safe drinking water.
The paper also described environmental conditions in the countryside as "very tough".
"Some rural environmental problems have become major factors threatening the physical health and property of farmers, and they are constraining the sustainable economic and social development of the countryside," it said.
It added that industrial and urban pollution has shifted to rural China, endangering both drinking water and agricultural products.
Health officials said last month that birth defects in China had increased by nearly 40 percent since 2001, a trend to which they believed environmental degradation had contributed. Also, the SEPA said yesterday it had recorded and investigated 261 environmental incidents since last year, of which 147 involved water pollution.
Zhou expressed hope that the quality of all key drinking water sources would reach national standards by next year.
Since 2000, the number of people without access to clean drinking water has been reduced by 790,000.