A Practical Guide for Improving Wastewater Management in Rural China

July 16, 2012

BEIJING, July 16, 2012 - In China’s drive to develop a modern countryside, limited water resources and ensuring access to clean water remain critical environmental challenges.  The World Bank offers a practical guide for wastewater management in rural villages in China, aiming to help improve understanding of the key issues and constraints and identify feasible solutions and tools to improve rural wastewater management.

Despite major progress made in the last three decades, China’s countryside is lagging far behind its urban areas in terms of basic sanitation conditions. In most villages there is no modern sanitary facilities including dry or water based sanitary facilities. It is estimated that less than 10 percent of the wastewater is treated in the rural areas in China.

The Guide for Wastewater Management in Rural Villages in China is intended to be a useful resource for Chinese policymakers and practitioners. It includes a review of historical and current policies and practices related to wastewater management in rural China. The Guide outlines a framework and strategies for establishing municipal and village level wastewater management programs.

The Guide identifies four major water related issues confronting rural China, including: (i) regional and temporal shortage of water resources, (ii) contaminated water resources and increased threat of diseases related to water sanitation and hygiene, (iii) inefficient water resources management, and (iv) lack of appropriate and sustainable waste management technologies.

Environmental degradation and pollution exacerbate poverty in China’s countryside, and threaten the health of vulnerable rural populations, particularly children. In rural China, less than 30 percent of the population has access to adequate sanitation, compared to 70 percent of the population in the urban areas. In rural areas, sewage is commonly discharged into the fields or small streams creating public health threats to the local residents. Adopting simple, low-cost decentralized and small centralized wastewater management schemes is fundamental to manage and in some instances reuse wastewater for the benefit of rural populations effectively.

The key lies in adopting sustainable, long-term sanitation and wastewater management programs at the municipal, county and village level.  With technical and financial assistance and regulatory oversight provided by the municipal and county governments, rural villages should take on the responsibility for implementing and maintaining effective wastewater management projects to protect the environment and public health.

Appropriate sanitation technology should be selected that is low cost and can be easily and reliably operated and maintained by rural villages. Project financing will likely use different sources of funds, including public funds, non-governmental loans, public subsidies to assist low-income villagers, and cost sharing opportunities for both monetary and non-monetary outlays.

The Guide lays out several sets of issues for consideration in developing wastewater management systems: technical issues such as decentralized versus centralized approaches, changes in level of water supply that determines the need for wastewater treatment, physical or environmental factors that can affect the sanitation solutions, and technological factors; financial issues such as organization and finance, and balancing private investment and subsidies; and institutional issues such as policies, standards, regulations and guidelines, participatory approach in community development, project monitoring, long term planning for future needs, and training and capacity building.

The institutional, programmatic and technical guidelines presented in the Guide can be adopted by local municipal, county, and village level jurisdictions and form the basis for consistent, affordable, practical, and effective sanitation project planning, design, implementation, and operations, so as to help improve rural sanitation in China and contribute to the building of the New Socialist Countryside,” said Shenhua Wang, World Bank’s Senior Infrastructure Specialist and a co-author of the Guide.

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