Arguments - Intervention Costs
China's water infrastructure will be very expensive.
supply and wastewater treatment
The development of adequate municipal freshwater supply and wastewater treatment systems
will be costly, because China is far behind in the development of this
infrastructure. Some 75% of all urban areas do not have adequate systems for the supply
and distribution of potable water. Effective infrastructure for municipal wastewater
treatment is rare in China. In many cases, wastewater is simply discharged into rivers and
lakes, which has contributed to a rapid deterioration of water quality in recent years.
The lack of effective measures to stop or slow urban water pollution has exacerbated
China's problems with freshwater supply. The longer China waits to develop a functioning
waste disposal and wastewater treatment infrastructure, the more complicated - and costly
- it will become to provide its rapidly growing urban population with clean drinking
Only since the early 1980s have the major cities begun to implement modern water supply
and sanitation facilities. It was estimated that between 1981 and 1993 the annual
investment in urban public water facilities increased from just 365 million to 5,948
billion yuan (United Nations ESCAP, 1997, p. 23). However, the measures so far have been
insufficient. Smaller cities and towns in rural areas, in particular, still have only very
basic wastewater treatment facilities. The capacity of public water supplies in
the rapidly growing urban-industrial agglomerations (e.g., Guangdong) needs to be
Most of the water consumed in China's agricultural sector is used for flooding
irrigation, a method with extremely low effectiveness. Usually open water canals for
the irrigation systems contribute to the water losses. The introduction of more effective
irrigation methods could, in many cases, double the available water resource by saving up
to 50% of irrigation water. However, the introduction of new irrigation technology
requires massive investments, not only in infrastructure development, but also in the
introduction and control of pricing schemes and maintenance work.
Industry is the biggest source of water pollution in China. Industrial wastewater
accounts for about two-thirds of the total discharge into rivers, lakes, and the sea.
About 80% of industrial wastewater is untreated. Existing facilities for treating
industrial wastewater are operating with outdated technology or are poorly maintained.
Recycling of process water is minimal in Chinese industry. It will be very costly to build
new facilities and update the existing ones.
Rational water use and wastewater treatment in China is not only an engineering
problem; it is also a public awareness issue and a question of adequate economic,
administrative, and legislative measures. The situation could be improved at relatively
low costs by introducing bold measures such as (a) adequate economic incentives
for water saving, such as tariffs or taxes, (b) clear and efficient administrative and
legal procedures for planning and implementation of water infrastructure projects,
and (c) public awareness and information campaigns to promote water-saving practices in
households and urban businesses and industries. Also, specialized departments for water
supply and treatment at the prefecture and provincial levels are necessary to implement
larger water projects affecting more than one town or city. These departments need a
strong legal and political position to settle conflicts of interest.
Floods are a major risk for Chinas food security. It was estimated that about one
third of the dams in China are in bad condition and seriously need repairs or rebuilding.
In March 1999 China Daily published an estimate of the Ministry of Water Resources that
some 33 billion Yuan would have to be invested in order to improve and rebuild dangerous
dams. 100 major dams, as well as some 800 medium-sized and about 32,000 small dams need
repairs or mainainance.
Water Resources: Trends
Impact Data Quality Prediction Error Intervention Possibilities
Revision 2.0 (First revision published in 1999)
- Copyright © 2011 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. (First revision: Copyright © 1999 by IIASA.)