As China’s cities grow, so must water infrastructure

26-06-2014 | Foresight | Junwei Hafner-Cai



Over the last 30 years, China has seen its urban population grow at a staggering rate and scale. In the early 1980s, approximately 20% of the population lived in cities, compared to 53% today. As part of the Chinese government’s effort to promote economic growth and consumption, urbanization is likely to continue to accelerate, with urban population accounting for 70% of China’s total population within the next 15 years. At this rate, by 2025, China will have about 221 cities with more than one million inhabitants, compared with 35 cities of the same size in Europe today. As a result, urban demand for water is expected to increase by 70–100% from 2005-2025, depending on the urbanization model.

China’s rapid economic progress and urbanization have undoubtedly put growing pressure on its natural resources and the environment. The unsustainable use of water resources has depleted ground water and caused severe pollution.

Though China is home to 20% of the world’s population, it has only 7% of the world’s freshwater resources. China’s per capita water resources are among the lowest at 2,093 cubic meters compared to the global average of 6,123 cubic meters per person.1 Moreover, a recent government report revealed that about 30% of China’s rivers and 60% of its groundwater resources are polluted. And along with urbanization, comes more wastewater. Since 2000, the total amount of wastewater discharged has grown by 65%, from 41.5 billion tonnes, to 68.5 billion tonnes, and is expected to increase further as urbanization continues.2

All of this means that additional water distribution networks, sanitation systems and wastewater treatment facilities need to be built and installed. However, current investments in water and waste treatment infrastructure have not kept up with urbanization rates. As a result, growing demand is driving water providers further afield, pumping more water over longer distances to consumers, and using more sophisticated water treatment technology enabling water recycling.

But the Chinese government has recognized the country’s water challenges and has made water one of its priorities. In its 12th Five Year Plan, it plans to spend USD 615 billion on waste water treatment, water efficiency improvements, and distribution. In addition, it has introduced more stringent pollution discharge levels and tighter water monitoring systems to protect water resources. All of this represents huge opportunities for providers of water and waste water treatment technologies such as advanced filtration, reverse osmosis, and UV disinfection technologies. Companies providing water distribution and wastewater treatment solutions in China such as Veolia, Beijing Enterprises Water and China Everbright are expected to benefit from growing demand for water and wastewater treatment.

1 Water & Environment, Macquarie, 2013
2 China Water Risk 

Jun-wei HafnerJunwei Hafner-Cai, CIIA

Senior Analyst
RobecoSAM Sustainable Water

"As China’s population continues to move to cities, water infrastructure will need to expand, opening up opportunities for companies offering water distribution and wastewater treatment solutions."


junwei-hafnerJunwei Hafner-Cai
Senior Analyst
RobecoSAM Sustainable 
Water Strategy

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