Goal: Reliable Water Supply across the whole Country
The People’s Republic of China is facing a real and simultaneously enormous challenge in the 2020s. China’s urban population has grown rapidly over the past 35 years. At the beginning of the 1980s, around 20% of the Chinese population lived in cities. Today, this figure has risen to over 50%. In another 15 years the proportion could rise to over 70%. The main reasons for this are government subsidies for economic growth and a huge change in consumption pattern, which means that urbanization will advance even faster in the future. According to estimates but depending on the urbanization model, water demand is expected to increase by 70–100% between 2005 and 2025. But water supply and water infrastructure are still considerably underdeveloped in China and just not yet prepared. However, this is not surprising since China’s four decades of economic boom has come at a heavy price not only for the water situation but for the environment in general.
20% of the world’s population lives in China, but the country itself only has 3% of the world’s drinking water resources.
The shortage of water, and especially of clean water, might become a serious problem for the Chinese economy in the long run. China is facing a huge water problem. However, the Chinese government has recognized this challenge for some time and therefore declared water security and a sustainable water supply to be among the most important goals of its five-year plan in 2016. However, it must be noted and criticised that in the latest five-year plan from 2020, the national construction and sustainable development of a stable water supply was quietly replaced by geopolitical and economic issues.
Water Pollution as the biggest Problem in China
According to China’s environmental protection ministry, round about 30% of the rivers and 50% of the drinking water would not meet the national quality standards. Water samples from the Yangtze River and the Yellow River showed a 50% excessive mercury content as well as an excessive arsenic content of 36.4%. It was also found that of the 1,200 state-monitored rivers, 850 are polluted. Of the 4,929 groundwater stations in 198 Chinese cities examined, 57.3% had poor or very poor water quality. The reason for this is simply the unfiltered industrial wastewater that gets into the groundwater. Although the Chinese government’s 12th Five-Year Plan set the target of investing a total of RMB 450 billion in wastewater treatment by 2015, it is estimated that 80% of wastewater still goes straight to the groundwater. It is also believed that 86% of the rivers that flow through cities are polluted. This is by no means comparable with western standards, because the Chinese drinking water situation is rather becoming worse due to the blunt fixating on economic growth. However, the Chinese Communist Party can not ignore the growing water problem in the long run.
Because of general fears of disruptive social unrest across the country, the Chinese Communist Party would never allow an escalation of the water scarcity. Instead, they counteract with balanced water investments.
Round about 82% of the Chinese population gets most of their drinking water from wells or freshwater lakes, but 3 out of 4 such sources are seriously contaminated with bacteria and only one in ten Chinese gets their drinking water from a source that meets the standards and is comparable with the Western world.
Water Management is lagging behind the overall Development
Hence, additional water and wastewater infrastructure as well as wastewater treatment plants are urgently needed, since previous and current investments in water and wastewater treatment infrastructure cannot keep pace with the overall pace of urbanization and economic growth. Another important and decisive point is that half of all large Chinese cities have not yet achieved the state quality standards for drinking water. Altogether, this could create enormous long-term potential for Chinese water companies, since the water industry has not yet joined China’s development from a farming state to an emerging global economic power.