Poor domestic water quality leads to business opportunities for foreign firms in China
According to a recently released water quality assessment report by Greenpeace East Asia; ” 十二五” 期间中国各省( 自治区、直辖市) 地表水环境质量改善情况评估“, nearly half of China’s provinces have missed its five year targets of reaching its laid out water quality targets.
For instance, the report finds that by the end of 2015, more than 85% of Shanghai’s surface water was unsafe to drink, and that about 56.4% of the water sources was unfit for any usage. Similarly, in Tianjin, only 4.9% of its surface water was considered to be safe enough to drink.
Greenpeace also found that during the 12th 5 years’ plan period (2011-2015), nearly half of China’s mainland provinces, 14 out of 31, failed to meet their water quality targets. Similarly, a survey done of 19 provinces by the Ministry of Water Resources in 2016, found that 80% of the groundwater in the country’s major river basins was unsafe for human contact.
The country’s surface water has mainly been polluted by fertilizer run-off, heavy metals and untreated sewage. According to the global news agency, Reuters, China’s vice-minister of Agriculture, Zhang Taolin, claimed already back in 2015 that the agriculture sector had overtaken industry as the biggest non-point polluter in the country. A similar observation was done by Mr. Tong Weidong, the vice-chairman of China’s legal work commission, who said to the Straits Time that wastewater from agriculture and the countryside is a serious problem and that current wastewater treatment is too weak to deal with the problem effectively.
Efforts to reverse the deterioration of its water resources
In recent years, improving the nationwide water quality level and management of national water resources in China, has been giving increased attention by the Government
In 2015, the State Council of China issued a new ambitious plan; ‘The Action Plan for Water Pollution Prevention’, which aims at reversing the deterioration of the nation’s water quality and step up the management of the country’s water resources. The plan includes policies targeted at enforcing stricter regulation of industry waste discharges, enhancing investment in new water treatment facilities and promoting more efficient and cleaner technologies. According to Karl Bourdeau, Scott Fulton and Russell Fraker at the American Law firm, Beveridge and Diamond pc, the plan includes progressive goals to be met the next five, fifteen and thirty-five years.
An example of this is that the plan states that by 2020, 70% of the water in China’s seven major watersheds and 93% of the drinking water sources in prefecture-level cities are to meet an “acceptable standard”, and by 2030, the these targets are raised to 75% and 95%, respectively. Another example is that the plan calls for the reduction of the prevalence of “black and odorous water bodies” in prefecture-level cities to less than 10% by 2020, and the elimination of this problem by 2030.
Likewise, cities such as Shanghai and Beijing have announced substantial measures to deal with local water quality issues. For instance, the authorities in Shanghai are planning to clean-up nearly 500 small and medium-sized waterways in and around the city, whilst Beijing has pledged to lay 126,000 kilometers (78,293 miles) of new sewage pipes by 2020. According to Reuters’ estimates, these sewage pipes will raise urban wastewater treatment to 50 million cubic meters a day in Beijing, which is equivalent to about 20,000 Olympic swimming pools.
Foreign Firms Rush to Grab Market Opportunities
The International Water Association estimate that from 2000 to 2016 the total number of wastewater treatment plants increased from 481 to 3,717. Combined, these plants can process about 140 million cubic meters a day.
In combination with the new action plan and the Chinese Government’s announcement of spending an estimated 3 trillion yuan ($441 billion) over the next five years on environmental issues, which opens new doors to foreign players within the water waste industry who can bring their experience and technologies to China.
Whilst the French water management and waste treatment company, Veolia, has for years had a strong presence in China with several water projects across the country, other firms are now seriously thinking of getting a stronger presence in the Chinese water waste and management market.
According to Reuters, international water treatment firms, like Israel’s Emefcy and RWL Water, have expressed strong interest in taking advantage of this new, huge market potential.
For instance, Mr. Yong Wong Jin, the chief executive for Israel’s Emefcy in China said the, said to The Straight Times; “The market is massive.” Just in Beijing and its surrounding provinces, the company estimate that market opportunities could be worth as much as US$1,0 billion. By the end of 2017, Emefcy plans to have built eight small-scale sewage treatment facilities and its own local factory in China. To Reuters, Emefcy says that these small-scale facilities can treat about 20,000 litres a day, have much lower energy costs and can be installed in just two months, thus making them suitable for rural areas.
For more detailed information on ‘The Action Plan for Water Pollution Prevention’, please check out Karl Bourdeau, Scott Fulton and Russell Fraker at the American Law firm, Beveridge and Diamond pc, assessment of it here.
Greenpeace, 2017: Nearly half of Chinese provinces miss water targets, 85% of Shanghai’s river water not fit for human contact ( an English summary of the report can be found here)
Karl Bourdeau, Scott Fulton and Russell Fraker, Beveridge and Diamond pc, 2015: China Announces New Comprehensive Water Pollution Control Plan
David Stanway, Reuters, 2017: In China’s murky waters, global sewage firms seek rewards
Karen Graham, 2017, digitaljournal: China’s water problems have opened market for global sewage firms
April Espejo, 2017, CGTN: China’s wastewater: What’s being done to make it good to the last drop?
The Straits Times, 2017: Sewage treatment firms eye opportunities in China