Hu Siyi, vice-minister of water resources, said authorities need to push ahead with a price hike to help plug further depletion of the supplies, state media reported. "We must set up a rational water pricing system adapted to the country’s severe shortage of water. So some cities will face a sharp rise in water prices," Hu said. According to official statistics, the average domestic water price in 36 large and medium-sized cities last year was RMB3.77 (US$0.55) per ton, marking an annual increase of 4.7%. But Hu said that price does not reflect the shortage of water in the country, encouraging waste. In Beijing, authorities have heldwater prices at RMB3.7 (US$0.54) per ton since 2004. Wang Hao, director of the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research, believes water prices in the capital should be at least RMB11.42 (US$1.67) per ton. A public forum on any price hike will take place this year. In 2008, China experienced a water shortage of 40 billion tons, affecting nearly two thirds of the cities in China. About 300 million people were exposed to unsafe drinking water, according to the Ministry of Water Resources.