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Water, sanitation key for sustainable China

Updated: 2011-03-30 14:55

By Chen Xuefei (chinadaily.com.cn)

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China plans to transform its economic growth pattern and urbanize its rural areas in the next five-year period, from 2011 to 2015. Building a sustainable city is the key to sustainable development for the whole country. Good-quality water and sanitation facilities are keys for a sustainable city.

During this process, China has to be more practical and take an innovative approach because our resources are very limited. For instance, China is a country with a severe shortage of water, especially in the northern part, and the groundwater level is decreasing year by year. How to efficiently use limited resources such as water and prevent pollution has become an important issue for the cities.

China has some advantages in this regard. Since the plan has been devised in a top-down fashion, the execution could also be done in the same vein. That means governments at various levels must take initiatives to plan for the process of urbanization. They must set up standards and requirements for developers to build sanitation facilities. However, without good implementation at the grass-roots level, all these efforts will be in vain. Thus raising people's awareness is also quite important.

First, be prepared for the influx of migrant workers into cities. That is building new apartments with complete facilities for sanitation. That is building not only toilets, but also waste disposal sites and waste water disposal facilities. This is a must for any newly built apartments or houses. In fact, due to the one-child policy and the improvement of living standards in China’s rural areas, many young people are buying apartments in the city when they want to get married. Instead of building a house in the countryside, they use their money to buy a new apartment in the city in order to wed there and to work and live there. Thus, as long as city planners and developers can build good affordable apartments and good sanitation facilities, people will get used to the situation sooner rather than later.

Another way of being innovative is to think of sanitation without using too much water. Can we use dry toilets? Can we build good public toilets? Can we get public toilets that are near home and warm in the winter? As scientists have found out that the quantity of phosphor in our waste but very necessary for agricultural crops is decreasing year by year while our demand for it is increasing, how can we save the phosphor and separate it from waste flushing into the sea and soil is another important question for research and action to be taken by politicians.

Second, encourage people to save water and recycle their waste. As a resource, water use can be taxed, the more people use after basic needs, the more they should pay for it. This will be good for the low income population as the water price can be very high if people use much more than their basic needs. This needs research and investigation to get a common standard for water consumption. The waste in the city comes mostly from the kitchen, the construction and renovation. Thus no matter where the waste comes from, there should be a route and a place to recycle them so that it won’t end up in rivers and lakes.

Third, recycling waste water and solid waste is not only good for our environment and water but also can create more energy and resources for us, for example, the material coming out of waste water treatment can be used for gardening, and the biofuel can be used for buses. This is also conducive to reducing pollution in rivers and lakes.

Fourth, public awareness is an ongoing topic since people from different areas have different habits and different generations have different behavior. Thus to teach the public about not throwing too much chemicals in water, not dumping things into toilets other than toilet paper, etc, can make a big difference. This awareness needs a lot of campaigns and education as well as information. For example, malaria and other water-borne diseases can revisit cities if people are not careful. New findings also show that pipe leakage in old cities can be a big loss of water, standing at 30-50 percent, and needs great attention from both the government and the public.

Fifth, many leaders still think investing in water treatment cannot lead to any profit, nor does it create GDP directly. But the social effect of water and waste treatment is good and environmental impact can be substantially reduced. It can help reduce the cost of healthcare, thus increasing economic growth and the happiness index. That is to say, clean water and good sanitation will lead to good environment, good environment will lead to good health, good health will produce better labor force and reduce cost of illness, thus it is good for economic growth, and with a clean environment and good health, people will feel happier. A benevolent cycle can be formed.

The author is a freelance journalist who focuses on sustainable development. She can be reached at chenxuefei7@hotmail.com.


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