|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
The development of XUAR is a top priority for the PRC. XUAR is one of the poorest and most remote regions in the northwest with a large ethnic minority population of 46% Uygur and 15% other minority ethnic groups. Around 97% of the population lives in an oasis belt covering only 8% of the region's total land area. Water availability is a critical concern to the fragile ecology of XUAR, which is predominantly a desert territory characterized by strong winds, low rainfall, and a high evaporation rate. Recognizing the need for greater national support, the Government of the PRC inaugurated a counterpart or twinning scheme whereby assistance from other provinces and/or municipalities will be used to strengthen capacity in XUAR and improve local living standards. In May 2010, the government outlined a number of policies and measures to aid XUAR's development. Nineteen nominated provinces and/or municipalities will provide financial contributions from 2011 to 2020 to achieve noticeable impacts. Under this scheme, Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces in the northeast PRC will jointly support project counties in Altay.
Altay is the northernmost area in XUAR. It comprises one city (Altay City) and six counties (Buerjin, Fuhai, Fuyun, Habahe, Jimunai, and Qinghe); and shares a border totaling 1,175 kilometers (km) with Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and the Russian Federation. Altay's total population of 658,000 comprises 51.4% Kazakh, 41.6% Han, and 7% other ethnic groups. While 44% of the population is urban, about 16% of the urban population lives below the official poverty line, with Jimunai and Qinghe designated as national poverty counties. The XUAR and Altay Prefecture governments have accorded high priority to infrastructure improvement, which will also benefit neighboring countries through the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) supports the promotion of regional trade through this program and is working with other development partners to advance cross-border cooperation. Along with other areas in XUAR, Altay City and Kanas Scenic Zone in Buerjin are involved in two ongoing ADB-loan-funded urban projects in the region.
Altay suffers from a very harsh climate, with subzero temperatures between October and March, and annual precipitation of about 180 millimeters but high evaporation of about 2,000 millimeters. It has scenic mountains, lakes, rivers, desert, and meadows, making tourism one of its pillar industries. Currently, its top-ranked tourist destination is the Kanas Scenic Zone, followed by other developing tourist destinations such as the White Birch Scenic Area in Habahe, and Qinghe. Altay has four land ports with access to Kazakhstan and Mongolia. While tourism and cross-border trade have the potential to contribute to economic growth and job creation, particularly for the ethnic population residing in these border towns, it also relies on good accommodation, excellent delivery of municipal services, safe and available transport, and a pristine environment.
Across Altay, infrastructure facilities are inadequate to meet existing demand and hinder the expansion of local economies. Road surfaces are severely damaged by winter freezing and traffic, and the road network is incomplete. Utilities are either nonexistent or are old, fragile, and mostly insufficient, resulting in frequent service failures and environmental pollution. Water supply capacity is restricted by inadequate infrastructure and water quality is compromised by high seasonal turbidity. Most of the county areas lack sewers, and wastewater treatment capacity is marginal. Refuse collection and disposal are poorly managed, and most landfills resemble unregulated dumping grounds. Decentralized heating plants have low-efficiency, coal-fired boilers while hot water distribution has limited coverage, thus creating serious pollution problems in urban areas. All of these threaten human health, pollute the environment, and constrain necessary improvements in living standards. Therefore, comprehensive urban infrastructure improvements are needed urgently.
In view of the experiences and lessons obtained from the previous urban projects in the PRC, the project design features multisector integrated approaches. The project will thus provide essential road, water supply, wastewater and solid waste management, and centralized heating infrastructure to five county seat towns in Altay and the Takeshiken Land Port. The holistic approach to better infrastructure will (i) improve living conditions and the urban environment, (ii) support tourism to enhance inclusive growth, and (iii) help raise the efficiency at land ports. This will assist Altay's growing cross-border trade and tourism, create favorable conditions for trade-related investment and employment, and expedite the development of the processing and service industries, all critical for poverty alleviation.
Low-impact urban development with low carbon footprint. The project will support the government's strategy in the 12th Five-Year Plan to build environment-friendly and resource-efficient towns. A parallel technical assistance initiated by ADB - the Resource-Efficient Towns Development in the Xinjiang Altay Area - has highlighted initiatives to limit impacts of urban activity on the environment. This technical assistance developed a plan to promote reduction, reuse, and recycling (3Rs) approaches to municipal service delivery and the application of renewable energy use, which have been incorporated in the project design and implementation. In particular, the promotion of the 3Rs will recommend service delivery improvements such as solid waste recycling, water demand management, wastewater effluents and sludge reuse, and the introduction of renewable energy. It also provides for a public information and training campaign to build awareness and ensure the effective application of the 3Rs principle. Wastewater treatment schemes will also provide effluents and sludge suitable for irrigation and fertilization of windbreak forest in arid lands, thus avoiding the need to abstract raw river water or discharge polluting effluents to the rivers, which addresses water scarcity by saving the raw water and also conforms to ADB's Water Policy. Well-managed potable water supply, wastewater reuse, solid waste recycling, and reduced pollution through improvements in the centralized heating system are vital in keeping the environment and economy sustainable.
Enhanced long-term operational efficiency and sustainability. The project is consistent with ADB's strategic priorities in support of urban infrastructure development. Based on the lessons learned on the importance of securing operation sustainability, the project will provide an institutional capacity building program for implementing agencies and for future operation and maintenance units. Owing to the small scale and remote location, an individual component may not have either the skilled personnel or the capacity to engage them full-time. Therefore, the project will set up regional technical support groups for municipal engineering management. Under the scheme, the project counties will develop and share their technical capacities.