|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
Located in the northwest of the PRC, XUAR is a remote region linking the PRC to Central Asia. Despite rapid economic development in recent years due to the expansion of agriculture and extractive industries, XUAR remains one of the poorest and least developed regions in the PRC. In 2013, XUAR's average urban per capita disposable income was the second lowest in the PRC, at CNY19,874. XUAR is one of the less-developed western regions targeted for accelerated socioeconomic development and poverty reduction by the preferential policies under the National Strategy for Development of the West. XUAR has a large ethnic minority population, with the Uygur accounting for 45.73% and other ethnic minority groups for 14.77%. The regional capital, Urumqi, with a population of 3.1 million, and the populated urban centers in the northern part of the region are the main industrial hubs. They are also the primary points of public infrastructural investments and private sector activities. On the other hand, investments in the southern part of XUAR, mainly constituted of mountains and desert areas, lag behind. The development of an arc-shaped urban and transport corridor between the southern piedmont of Tianshan Mountain and the northern rim of Taklamakan Desert presents an opportunity to achieve a more balanced level of development across the region.
The national railway and highway A314 run through the southern region, and stretch from Korla towards the Karakoram pass. They cross a series of alluvial plains which are separated by large desert areas. Historically, oases formed in these plains, and the available water resources created conditions for the development of settlements and herding of grasslands. Today, there are five oases along A314, each with an urban population between 300,000 and 700,000. Historically, these oases' water resources provided conditions for the development of settlements and herding of grasslands. Overtime, agricultural expansion, poorly managed urbanization, and extractive industries have degraded the local environment, decreasing the sustainability of the oasis towns. Lack of employment opportunities outside agriculture has caused constrained local development. This has resulted in significant migration in search of jobs and education opportunities from these areas to Urumqi that took place over the last two decades. The oases' main cities represent the only urban centers that are capable of clustering economic activities in the southern part of the region. Intensifying strategic infrastructure investment in oases' urban centers will enhance the conditions for economic development and support employment diversification from agriculture to secondary and tertiary sectors.
Akesu is a medium-sized city in southern XUAR, which has a higher poverty rate than regional and national averages. In 2013, the poverty incidence rate in Akesu was 5.45% for the urban population, and 12.3% for the rural population. The city has expanded in recent years following (i) economic growth in agricultural production, (ii) exploration and processing of oil and gas, and (iii) regional and intercity transport improvements. The urban population grew from 422,470 in 2005 to 509,200 in 2013, reaching an urbanization rate of 61.2%, while the built-up area expanded from 27 to 46.5 square kilometers over the same period. Though the burgeoning city benefits from a good economic outlook, inadequate infrastructure investment in existing areas and environmental degradation are contributing to a poorer quality of life in the city.
Akesu's long-term sustainable development is dependent on the improvement of urban infrastructure and services, as well as the protection of the natural environment. There is urgent need to address its significant urban infrastructure and service deficiencies in Akesu. Current access to water, sanitation, and heating in Akesu is low and variable. In the project area, the households with connection to piped water supply account for 52.6%, the households with sewerage connections account for 8.0%, the households with access to central heating account for 12.7%, and the households covered by solid waste management coverage account for 18.7%. Meanwhile, poor land use and waste management practices threaten environmental conditions in Akesu's rivers and wetlands. While improved services will reduce the negative impact of urbanization on the environment in Akesu, additional measures are needed to rehabilitate and preserve the existing water resources for the city and the larger watershed. The Akesu Duolang wetlands, located within the ecological conservation zone of the pilot Xinjiang Akesu Duolang River National Wetland Park, provide important ecosystem services. These include groundwater replenishment, flood retention, sediment and nutrient removal, micro-climate regulation, cultural services, and biodiversity conservation. Rehabilitation of these wetlands will enhance the National Wetland Park network in the PRC, provide a demonstration of wise wetland use as promoted by the Ramsar Convention, and contribute to improved water resources management within the Tarim River Basin.
The proposed project is to support (i) urban road network improvement; (ii) expansion of public and green spaces; (iii) significant water supply, sewerage service, and district heating service improvements; (iv) solid waste collection coverage expansion; (v) wetland rehabilitation; and (vi) enhance wetland, solid waste, and traffic management in Akesu. The project would improve municipal services in the project area significantly: (i) the households with connection to piped water supply would increase from 52.6% to 88.6%, (ii) the households with sewerage connections would increase from 8.0% to 66.6%, (iii) the households with access to central heating would increase from 12.7% to 87.0%, and (iv) the households covered by solid waste management coverage would increase from 18.7% to 100%. The components are aligned with the "Comprehensive Transportation Planning of the Urban Center Area of Akesu (2013 2030)," to improve conditions and connectivity of the urban road network in Akesu for all users on arterial, secondary, collector, and lane-scale roads. The improvement of services will have large environmental impacts, including interception of some 21,600 m3 of currently uncollected wastewater, reducing contamination of the Akesu water resources. The project area covers 31 km2, not only the central urban district, but also the Akesu Duolang wetlands to the north of the central urban district. The residential alleyway subcomponent upgrading targets for peri-urban communities that are inhabited mostly by ethnic minorities.