Treated Water Bringing Smiles Back to PRC’s Hebei Province

Project Result / Case Study | 24 July 2015

More than 800,000 residents are benefiting from a project to clean up water, upgrade wastewater and solid waste treatment, and boost district heating in 10 small towns of Hebei Province, PRC.

BOTOU, HEBEI PROVINCE – Xi Yanfang (蒵艳芳), a short, cheerful, 58-year-old grandmother from Botou county, Hebei province, People's Republic of China (PRC), remembers clearly the day that wiped the smile off her face as a youngster.

She was in her early 20s and always laughing and smiling. Then one day she bumped into some tourists from Canada and couldn’t help but notice how they all had perfect white teeth. Seeing their gleaming smiles, she felt immediately ashamed of her own yellow stained teeth. From that time on, when meeting strangers, she covered her mouth when smiling to hide her "dirty" teeth.

Ms. Xi is not the only resident around Botou with yellow stained teeth. Most in the surrounding area, especially those born in the 1970s and 1980s, are also affected, including her own children. Residents are also highly prone to broken bones.

This was a painful lesson learned by the family of Xu Lihua (许立华), 56, a father with two sons now 30 and 28 years old. When his sons were teens, they often sustained broken bones while playing with their friends, especially when they were learning how to ride a bicycle.

The yellow stained teeth and brittle bones are the result of high fluoride content in the water, according to Dr. Wang Zhenling (王振玲), an orthopedic surgeon at Botou Municipal Hospital for more than 30 years.

"The bones of children younger than 12 are easily broken if they drink water with fluoride over a long period," said Dr. Wang.

However, since 2012, residents of Botou county have been served by a new water supply plant, built as part of the Hebei Small Cities and Towns Development Demonstration Project financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Serving a current urban population of 200,000, the daily water consumption of the city is about 15,000-20,000 tones, depending on the season.

"With a capacity of 30,000 tons per day, we are thinking of the coming 10 years, as the city is expanding and the population will increase,” explained Mr. He Hui (和辉), Director of Foreign Debts Management Center of Hebei Provincial Department of Finance. “Municipal infrastructure should be developed in advance to meet future needs."

Apart from the health aspect, the water plant has improved life in a number of other ways.

"I have lived in the township for over 20 years; water was only supplied from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., now it's supplied around the clock in all seasons,” said Mrs. Xi. “The water is softer [hard water has a high mineral content] and does not leave a white residue [mostly dissolved minerals] after being boiled. Rice also tastes better when cooked with the tap-water."

For Mr. Xu, the treated water means tastier food, which has enabled the small dumpling restaurant he has operated for the last 10 years to expand its customers by about a third.

"Before, the water was bitter and salty, destroying the taste of tea and the dough for making dumplings,” he said. “Since the water quality has improved, the food we make and the tea we serve tastes better."

“This project in Botou county has ended a history of thousands of years of local people drinking the underground water with high fluoride. The local people sincerely appreciated the government’s efforts and ADB’s assistance,” added Mr. He Hui.

Besides water quality, the project addressed water distribution, wastewater treatment, solid waste treatment, and district heating through 18 sub-projects undertaken in 10 small cities and towns in Hebei province. About 800,000 people are benefiting directly from the project, which has improved the standard of living through fresh drinking water, cleaner urban environment, and a reliable heating supply.

For example, in Zhuolu county, the project set up a 40-km pipeline network to collect wastewater from households, businesses, and industries serving the county’s 100,000 citizens and 50 enterprises. A wastewater treatment plant built in 2005 was also upgraded to double its capacity with improved treatment equipment and methods.

"This project in Botou county has ended a history of thousands of years of local people drinking the underground water with high fluoride. The local people sincerely appreciated the government’s efforts."

He Hui, Director of Foreign Debts Management Center of Hebei Provincial Department of Finance

"When it rained, the sewer would overflow into the village, with mosquitoes and flies multiplying everywhere," said Yan Zhigang (鄢志刚), a former farmer from Wangyuantun, a village in Zhuolu county 200 km away from Botou. Now the foul smelling sewer next to the Mr. Yan's village has been turned into a paved road.

Further afield is Gubaoxincheng in Huai'an county about 300 km from Botou where a new district heating network is providing heating 24/7.

For Gubaoxincheng resident Yuan Haitang (袁海棠) and her husband, this means not only a warmer house but a cleaner one too.

"After the small boiler in our resident compound was replaced by the municipal heating supply, cleaning our apartment has become an easy job,” she said. “There is no more dust from the delivery and burning of coal. The CNY2,300 [$376] heating bill for the whole winter is also affordable for me and my husband with our monthly income of around CNY5,000 [$817]."

For more than 13,000 households in the area, there is no longer a need to burn coal to generate household heating in winter and 146 small coal-fueled boilers were closed down. It will reduce burning of 420,000 tons of coal and reduce SO2 emission of 6,900 tons annually.

In 2012, there were 320 days designated as having good air quality, while the average for the entire Hebei province was 340 days. From January to April 2014, Huai’an was listed as the No. 2 for best air quality area in the province. Thus the project has helped bring back clean skies not only for the Huai’an area but also for the whole of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.

"By addressing pollution issues in Hebei province, this project is contributing to environmental improvement in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region,” said Hamid Sharif, ADB Country Director in the PRC. “This project demonstrates to other provinces in the PRC and even other areas of Asia and the Pacific how small city clusters can implement socially inclusive, economically, and environmentally sustainable programs at the same time.”