Shaanxi Qinling Biodiversity Conservation and Demonstration Project

Engaging Private Sector and Nonprofit Organization in Ecosystem Restoration

The Zhihui farm before and after restoration. Photo credit: Yuan Hui.

In the PRC, the successful restoration of the Ma’anshan and Zhihui mining pits showcases innovative business models.


To avoid, reduce, and reverse land degradation induced by human activities, ecosystem restoration is essential and urgently needed. Ecosystem restoration is a proven and cost-effective solution to help reverse the loss of ecosystem services caused by the rapid depletion of natural capital stocks.

However, ecosystem restoration has largely relied on government’s public investments, and the participation of the private sector and nonprofit organizations (NPOs) has been limited due to the constrained business case for investing in nature. For instance, restoration of abandoned mine pits requires a substantial one-time investment, along with ongoing expenses for managing and protecting ecological forests to sustain the restored areas’ ecosystem services.

An evaluation of the natural capital created by ecosystem restoration and the ecosystem services after the restoration of the Ma’anshan and Zhihui farms, formerly abandoned mining pits in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), showed that investment in ecological restoration can be economically feasible if designed and implemented effectively.

This article introduces business models for engaging the private sector or nonprofit organizations in ecosystem restoration.

Ecosystem restoration leads to the formation of a stock of natural capital, enabling people to derive benefits through ecosystem service flows. These flows can be valued in various ways, including provisioning (food, fuel, fruits, etc.), regulating (biodiversity, climate regulation, carbon sequestration, soil and water conservation, etc.), and cultural services (interactions between people and nature).

Figure 1: Conceptual Framework for Ecosystem Restoration’s Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services

Source: Modified from Bolt et al. (2016) and Diaz et al. (2015).

The PRC considers ecological restoration a vital element of its pursuit of ecological civilization. Despite achieving land degradation neutrality in 2020, over 40% of its land is affected. Noteworthy efforts, including rehabilitation, afforestation, and biodiversity protection, have been made, but sustained actions are crucial. The demand for ecological restoration investment is around 60 billion Chinese Yuan (CYN) annually, yet government budgets cover only 24%. To bridge the financing gap, the central government encourages private and nonprofit involvement. However, a key obstacle is the lack of an enhanced framework in the business case for investing in nature.

An analysis of the ecosystem restoration at Ma’anshan farm and Zhihui farm in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, using the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA), suggests that social capital investment in ecological restoration can be viable with careful design and implementation. 

Innovative collaborative governance

The Ma’anshan farm, situated in Linhe Town, Lingwu City of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, spans a total area of 667 ha on the east bank of the Yellow River. It is in proximity to key infrastructure, including the Ningxia Yinchuan Hedong International Airport, Yinchuan Comprehensive Bonded Area, a high-speed railway station, and the Yellow River Wharf. Originally a mining pit providing raw materials for infrastructure construction, the site was abandoned without effective restoration, leading to severe soil erosion and sand and dust storms that posed threats to nearby infrastructure operations.

In 2014, the restoration of the Ma’anshan site began. The initial interventions from 2014 to 2018 focused on land leveling, topsoil restoration, and initial vegetation plantation. Subsequently, from 2018, with the support of an Asian Development Bank project, approximately CNY80.0 million was invested in constructing water conservancy facilities, water-saving irrigation systems, connecting roads, culverts, bridges, production and living housing, and other supporting facilities.

The Ma’anshan farm operates with financially independent entities, such as small-scale farmers, better-off farmers, herders, and private enterprises. It exemplifies a nonprofit organization’s ability to mobilize resources for ecosystem restoration, employing diversified funding, co-governance, and shared costs and benefits for effective management. The project surpasses the typical government role in ecological restoration investment by involving various stakeholders through innovative collaborative governance. It involves leasing facilities and lands to generate economic benefits for local communities, farmers, or herdsmen. The arrangement includes zero rent for land use, contingent upon the responsibility of caring for a designated area of ecological forests.

Funding sources encompass government subsidies, corporate and international donations, as well as savings from the operations of the Ningxia Desert Greening and Sand Industry Foundation.

The project not only restored abandoned mine pits but also created stable job opportunities for locals. By the end of 2021, the Ma’anshan farm had planted over 1.3 million trees and developed 440 ha of ecological public welfare forest, 133 ha of economic forest, 333 ha of landscape forest, 40 ha of nursery, and 23 sets of greenhouse facilities.

According to the TESSA assessment, the Ma’anshan farm’s ecosystem services are valued at CNY21.54 million in its natural capital account for the year 2021.

Table 1: Natural Capital Valuation of the Ma’anshan Farm

(CNY million)

Type of Ecosystem Services




Provisioning Services




Regulating Services

Soil and water conservation



Accumulated water resources






Increase carbon sink



Dust removal






Cultural Services

Research, study tour



Total Value




The cumulative cash flow from economic investments at the Ma’anshan farm is projected to turn positive in 2027, reaching CNY1,194,300. The net present value is expected to become positive in 2028, amounting to CNY1,001,800, with a financial internal rate of return of 4%.

Integrating industrial development with ecosystem restoration

The Zhihui farm is in Xixia District of Yinchuan City, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region at the eastern piedmont of the Helan Mountain. The area where the farm is located has been excavated for mining sand and gravel materials for several decades since the 1980s. Large excavation resulted in soil erosion and loss of natural habitats. Land productivity deteriorated severely.

Since 1996, Zhihui Company began contracting abandoned mine pits in the region for ecological restoration, primarily through tree plantation. In the initial stages, Zhihui Farm engaged in cropping grains, planting economic forests (peach, plum, and apricot), nursery gardens, and animal husbandry to generate revenue for restoration works. Unfortunately, these efforts proved financially unsustainable. Eventually, the farm shifted its focus to nursery stock and landscaping, which became its primary revenue source. In 2006, the farm expanded its business by venturing into wine making and establishing vineyards.

In total, 1,000 ha of abandoned mine pits have been restored. As of 2021, the Zhihui farm has planted 400 ha of ecological forests, 266.7 ha of vineyards, and 53.3 ha of other economic forests. The site has been developed into a modern farm supporting a national 4A-level leisure scenic spot (the PRC’s rating system for tourist attractions, where 5A is the highest rating) and a famous winery.

Table 2: Natural Capital Valuation of the Zhihui Farm

(CNY million)

Ecosystem Services



Provisioning services






Job creation




Regulating services

Water saving





Carbon stock


Dust removal




Cultural services

Winery tourism



Leisure and entertainment








In 2021, the total natural capital value of Zhihui farm was estimated at CNY67.9 million. The farm’s income that year included CNY40.0 million from wine sales and CNY4.0 million from government subsidies for the operation and maintenance of the sport and recreation park, venue rental, and sales of agricultural products. Consequently, Zhihui farm reported a profit of CNY10 million for the year, with a calculated return on investment of 13 years.

Considering its 2021 natural capital of CNY67.9 million, the payback period could be halved if the full value of natural capital created by the ecosystem restoration is realized.

The Zhihui farm proves that private companies can profitably explore ecological industries through restoration, serving as a sustainable model. This approach, integrating restoration with industrial development like vineyards and wineries, has inspired other companies to invest in ecological restoration in the region. Consequently, the area has become a global hub for wine-making, offering substantial employment opportunities and establishing a green, profitable industry.

Ecosystem restoration creates natural capital, offering provisioning, regulating, and cultural services, while combating land degradation. Here’s how policy makers can support these efforts.

Establish policies and mechanisms for realizing the value of ecosystem services and natural capital.

The Ma’anshan and Zhihui projects have created valuable ecosystem services and abundant natural resources. However, existing policies and market conditions lack an effective mechanism to actualize the value of these services and resources on the farms. These farms bear the majority of ecological restoration costs, despite providing public goods, services, and positive external economic benefits. The absence of this mechanisms may discourage private sector investment in ecological restoration.

Define the property rights of the formed natural capital.

In the PRC, sites for ecosystem restoration, such as abandoned mining pits, are often state-owned with vague property rights. Social organizations, including private companies, encounter difficulties in obtaining necessary land rights for business development due to ambiguous property rights. This hinders them from engaging in profitable ecological activities despite their commitment to environmental protection. There is a need to clarify property rights for social organizations and enterprises and create appropriate incentives to encourage private sector investment in ecological restoration.

Enable viable investment and eco-compensation in ecosystem management.

Natural capital provides a promising instrument to justify viable investment in ecosystem management given the ecosystem services that it can create. It also supports the design and implementation of eco-compensation regimes for conservation activities. However, creating an enabling environment is essential to actualize the potential of natural capital. Further studies are needed to identify appropriate policies and financing mechanisms that can motivate the participation of nonprofit organizations and the private sector.


Asian Development Bank (ADB). 2018. Ningxia Integrated Ecosystem and Agricultural Development Project: Completion ReportManila.

ADB. 2022. Ningxia Irrigated Agriculture and Water Conservation Demonstration Project: Completion Report. Manila.

K. Peh et al. 2022. Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) Version 3.0. Cambridge, UK.

Ministry of Natural Resources of China. 2021. Typical Cases of Ecological Restoration in China.

P. Dasgupta. (2021). The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review. London: HM Treasury. 

The State Council. 2023. White Paper: China’s Green Development in the New Era. Beijing.

The State Council. 2021. Opinions on Supporting and Encouraging Social Capital to Participate in Ecological Protection and Restoration. Beijing.

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). 2022. The Global Land Outlook Second Edition: Summary for Decision Makers. Bonn. 

UNCCD. 2022. The Global Land Outlook Second Edition: Land Restoration for Recovery and ResilienceBonn. 

Zhiming Niu

Zhiming Niu

Senior Project Officer (Environment), East Asia Department, ADB

This blog is reproduced from Development Asia.

Strengthening Biodiversity Conservation in the Yellow River Basin of Henan Province, the PRC

Ecological Protection in the PRC: Pilot Case Studies on Comprehensive Eco-Compensation, Poverty Alleviation, and Green Development

Resilience Rising: Battling Nature’s Fury in the PRC

The destructive capabilities of natural hazards, coupled with their far-reaching consequences on employment, health, population migrations, and poverty perpetuation, are well-recognized. The People’s Republic of China faces a wide array of natural hazards, and these challenges are exacerbated by climate change and rapid urbanization. The interconnectedness of urban systems makes them highly vulnerable to cascading effects from disasters. Meanwhile, rural areas, where many young and older residents remain due to rural-to-urban migration, are also at risk. Disaster Risk Management is crucial, but it requires tailored solutions that consider geographic, social, and economic factors. Cost-effectiveness principles are essential to prioritize impactful measures, benefiting both the country and the region. Collaboration with neighboring countries is vital for promoting regional disaster resilience, as natural hazards show no signs of abating, necessitating immediate adaptation and preparation. 

Related project: TA 6748-PRC: Integrated Framework for Cost-Effective Disaster Risk Management

Planting the Seeds for an Environmentally Sustainable Future

Students of Furong School of Sanyang Township in Pingjiang County talk about their milk carton recycling initiative and share best practices in recycling. Photo credit: Furong School.

In the People’s Republic of China, an environmental education program instills in students and their families a love for their hometown and nature.


Pingjiang in Hunan province was listed as a poverty-stricken county in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) until March 2019. Back then, the ecological environment of Pingjiang was under pressure from inadequate wastewater and solid waste facilities in rural areas, nonpoint source pollution from intensified crop and livestock farming, occasional industrial pollution, and frequent flooding. Improving the living environment could help the county attract more investments that would create jobs and income-generating opportunities.

In 2020, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) worked with the Pingjiang County government to design a project that incorporates nature-based solutions and circular practices to address environmental challenges and improve quality of life. ADB recommended that the project include awareness-raising programs in local schools and communities for environmental protection and green development.

Despite the lagging economic status of Pingjiang, its education system outperformed other counties for years, benefiting from an excellent educational tradition and high-level policy support to promote education for poverty reduction. The county government adopted ADB’s recommendation to mainstream environmental education in schools and improve the environmental literacy of residents by engaging students’ families through targeted outreach activities.

This case study shares the progress of the environmental education component in the third year of project implementation. It demonstrates the important role of the community in ensuring a better living environment.

Project information

53052-001 : Hunan Miluo River Disaster Risk Management and Comprehensive Environment Improvement Project in the People’s Republic of China

Project snapshot

      • Approval date: 27 November 2020
      • Closing date: 30 November 2027
      • Total project cost: $354 million
      • Executing agency: Pingjiang County Government, Hunan Province, People’s Republic of China
      • Financing: Asian Development Bank, KfW Bankengruppe


Covering an area of 4,125 square kilometers, Pingjiang County is located on the eastern margin of Hunan. Its total population is about 1.1 million, with an urbanization ratio of 46%. The Miluo River runs through the county and flows into Dongting Lake. The river also serves as the main source of drinking water for the county.

In 2019, about half of all rural villages in Pingjiang lacked household sewage or wastewater treatment facilities. Agricultural nonpoint source pollution had worsened water quality in the region. These, coupled with inadequate management of solid waste, had a significant negative impact on the rural living environment. The Miluo River was also subject to recurrent flooding, causing damage to the economy and the environment, and posing a serious risk to people’s lives and livelihoods.

To improve the rural living environment in Pingjiang, ADB approved the Hunan Miluo River Disaster Risk Management and Comprehensive Environment Improvement Project in November 2020. This $150-million loan invests in water-related disaster management, sanitation services enhancement, and eco-farming demonstration. In addition to investment activities, mainstreaming environmental education in the local educational system was specially designed as a project component to drive a fundamental change in mindset about environmental protection.


Although the county government was committed to achieving environmentally sustainable economic development then, the overall environmental literacy of local communities was low, illegal mining and pollution discharge by small enterprises continued to occur, and rapid economic development and changes to traditional lifestyles were accelerating environmental pressures.

Awareness-raising activities carried out by the government often directly called for certain actions or simply disseminated textbook-type knowledge without cultivating attitudes and values that support environmental protection. This resulted in limited active participation by local communities in county initiatives. For example, the potential for reducing environmental impacts through the “reuse, reduce, and recycle” initiative was largely untapped.

There are about 350 primary and middle schools and around 138,000 students in Pingjiang. Exam-oriented education was the dominant goal in schools and families. Before the project, environmental protection was already part of moral education in schools, but it was often delivered through a one-way, lecture method and squeezed into limited teaching time, which substantially weakened its effectiveness. Also, students were often distracted by electronic devices, and they became increasingly disconnected from nature.


The Pingjiang Education Bureau and ADB jointly designed the project activities on environmental education. The bureau identified more than 100 schoolteachers who were interested to act as the catalysts for environmental education in Pingjiang.

Building teachers’ capacity. To equip teachers with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively deliver environmental education, the project organized a range of training programs and study tours for the teachers on natural play, environmental education activities for different types of fields, typical environmental issues, environmental education course design, and environmental education theories and outcomes.

Adding environmental education to school activities. The teachers incorporated environmental education elements into various existing school activities, such as regular classes, labor education programs, science and technology club, and mental health counseling.

Fostering hometown pride. The Pingjiang Education Bureau selected and grouped elite students and teachers to work with environmental education practitioners in developing reading materials for students and citizens that promote love for their green hometown. The books guide the readers to think globally, act locally, and live personally for environmental protection. In contrast to textbooks, these readers forge students’ bond with their hometown by highlighting Pingjiang’s strengths, discussing its environmental challenges, and exploring solutions to such issues.

Acting collectively at school. Teachers organized a variety of school and class activities for students’ active participation. Some schools arranged field trips to the landfill site and waste incineration plant. In other schools, students pioneered milk carton recycling through project-based learning. As a club activity, some students established “a recycling company” to operate the school-wide collection and recycling of old books and used papers.

Engaging families through children. The Pingjiang Education Bureau combined environmental education with family education during students’ vacation. Students and parents were urged to work hand in hand in building a green and harmonious family. The bureau first prepared the families through lectures at mobilization meetings. Then, a family’s environmental action was agreed upon through a why-how-what family discussion. The chosen action was carried out during the vacation and documented. Finally, the students summarized the activity and reported on the before and after situation and their reflections.

Speaking for nature. Since 2021, more than 300 primary and secondary schools in the county have participated in the annual speech competition “Green Home in My Heart.” Students share their stories based on on-site research and/or personal experience, express their thoughts and insights, and also call on everyone to be practitioners and promoters of a green Pingjiang.

School teachers attend a training on environmental education organized by the project. Photo credit: Pingjiang Education Bureau.


As of this year, about 150 personnel, including teachers, educational bureau staff, environmental facility operators, and project management officers, received environmental education-related training. They have applied their new knowledge and skills in school education. A core team of around 40 teachers was created for piloting activities, developing environmental readers, and training new talents. Forty-one schools were identified for development into environmental education schools.

About 138,000 students and 25,000 families actively engaged in environmental education activities. A Pingjiang Environmental Education Reader for junior high school students was prepared jointly by 16 teachers, 50 students, and environmental practitioners. The readers for primary school, high school, and citizens are currently under development. A total of 2,200 students participated in milk carton recycling, following the findings of the first batch of students who underwent project-based learning. A study on irrigation design to cope with drought by a group of high school students—members of a science and technology club—won first prize at the provincial science and technology innovation youth competition.

Environmental education activities organized by the teachers were enriched and diversified to promote active learning in comparison with lecturing and one-off group activities in the past. Students are better motivated by their experiences to study environmental issues and commit to behavioral change.

The Pingjiang Education Bureau will continue its efforts in creating a comprehensive, diversified, and sustainable environmental education system; building model schools; and strengthening the collaboration between schools, families, and society for environmental protection.


The project’s achievements in environmental education cannot be achieved without the champions in Pingjiang Education Bureau and the support of the bureau’s leadership as well as the enthusiasm of local teachers.

Experienced nongovernment organizations and social enterprises in the environmental education field served as external advisors for the Pingjiang Education Bureau. Initially, the bureau invited university professors to provide technical support, but their academic style did not suit the project’s practical needs.

The development of higher education on environmental protection in the PRC was lagging compared with developed countries. There were gaps to bridge in terms of professional talent, education theory, curriculum development, and teaching methodologies. International experiences can provide valuable reference.

An environmental issue often involves multiple disciplines. Solving practical environmental problems is a good opportunity for students to comprehensively apply their knowledge and skills. Therefore, environmental education can bring students a variety of benefits: academic achievement, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, personal growth, and joy. It also provides students with extra motivation for self-development and a great sense of self-efficacy.

Xin Shen

Xin Shen

Senior Project Officer (Natural Resources and Agriculture), East Asia Department, ADB

This blog is reproduced from Development Asia.

Rehabilitating the Chao Lake Basin in the PRC

Integrated water pollution control has helped improve the water quality of the Chao Lake. Photo credit: Chao Lake Management Authority.

Strengthening the capacity of the new lake authority was a critical success factor in implementing an integrated lake basin management project.


The area around Chao Lake, the fifth-largest freshwater lake in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), has experienced tremendous economic growth from 2000 to 2009. This has resulted in a 30% increase in the urban population within the lake basin catchment and a fivefold increase in gross domestic product (GDP). However, this remarkable progress came at an environmental cost. In 2010, the lake’s overall water quality was considered Class V, the worst grade under the PRC’s national environmental water quality standard.[1]

To decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, the Anhui Provincial Government crafted the Master Plan for Integrated Water Environmental Management of Chao Lake Basin (2008–2020). This unprecedented plan set forth a basic framework aimed at enhancing the water quality of Chao Lake while safeguarding its economic, ecological, and aesthetic values by adopting the integrated water resources management approach.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) was invited by the Anhui Provincial Government in 2010 to support the implementation of this master plan through its lending program. The Anhui Chao Lake Environmental Rehabilitation Project put a great emphasis on institutional capacity building to support the then newly established Chao Lake Management Authority that has primary authority and responsibility for managing the lake. It is the first lake or river management agency in the PRC that has a sufficiently comprehensive management purview and the first to deal with all aspects of the water cycle.[2] The project also made significant engineering investments toward controlling nonindustrial municipal point source pollution and nonpoint source pollution.

With the help of the Anhui Chao Lake Environmental Rehabilitation Project, the lake’s water quality began to show signs of recovery. By 2021, the lake’s water quality improved to Class IV,[3] while the basin economy experienced increased GDP at an estimated 11% compound annual growth rate.

The project offers valuable insights on supporting new river basin authorities for integrated water resources management and offers replicable lessons and best practices that other regions within and beyond the PRC could benefit from.

Project information

44036-013 : Anhui Chao Lake Environmental Rehabilitation Project in the People’s Republic of China

Project snapshot

      • Approval date: 16 November 2012
      • Closing date: 31 March 2021
      • Total project cost: $413 million
      • Executing agency: Anhui Provincial Government, People’s Republic of China
      • Financing: Asian Development Bank


The Chao Lake basin covers 13,545 square kilometers or about 10% of the total area of Anhui province, with some 40 tributaries belonging to seven major river systems flowing into it. The lake serves as a crucial component of the province’s industrial and agricultural water supply, water transport, tourism, and recreational activities. The population in the basin totaled about 11.9 million in 2020.

The Chao Lake basin covers 13,545 square kilometers (within the gray line boundary). Around the Chao Lake, there were still significant lands used for farming (light brown areas in the colored belt around the lake). The most densely populated area in the basin is the urban area of Hefei Municipality, the capital city of Anhui Province (the large gray area above the lake). The background is the remote sensing image from October 2020. Photo credit: Chao Lake Management Authority.

The lake’s water environment has suffered significantly because of the adverse effects of rapid economic growth and urban development since 1990. Recognizing its poor water quality, the national government designated it as one of three priority lakes for environmental rehabilitation in 1996.

Despite substantial resources being invested in controlling pollution within the lake basin and industrial pollution being largely under control by 2010, Chao Lake continued to be besieged by excessive amounts of organic matter, nitrogen, and phosphorous, which contributed to it retaining a Class V water quality status in 2010.


Back then, the primary pollutant sources in the Chao Lake were nonindustrial municipal point source pollution. The sewerage system coverage and wastewater treatment capacity in the urban area were woefully inadequate, leading to a considerable amount of untreated domestic wastewater in towns being discharged into water bodies.

The nonpoint source pollution was also significant and largely to be addressed, including waste from animal farming, nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from farmers’ fields, unsewered rural households, resuspension of polluted sediments, and erosion of riverbanks during high flow conditions.

Pressures from economic growth and urban development were expected to continue, if not increase, based on strategic plans for the Chao Lake basin. The Anhui Provincial Government and the Ministry of Environmental Protection signed a cooperation agreement to manage the environmental implications of these developments, but concerns for increased water pollution remained.

In 2011, the Anhui Provincial Government established the Chao Lake Management Authority as one of the PRC’s pioneering agencies tasked with overseeing all aspects of lake water quality and use. However, the agency faced challenges related to acquiring necessary knowledge and skills on integrated lake basin management due to limited precedents in the PRC to learn from and staff inexperience. It also needed to gain the cooperation of different sectors and agencies to effectively coordinate efforts related to lake rehabilitation.


In 2012, ADB approved a $250 million loan aimed at enhancing the water resources and environment in Chao Lake and its upstream rivers. The project sought to improve residents’ quality of life and ensure sustainability of the aquatic ecosystem within the lake basin. To achieve these goals, the project expanded and enhanced municipal wastewater treatment, made new investments in nonpoint source pollution control, and bolstered the institutional capacity of Chao Lake Management Authority through an integrated approach.

Capacity building included organizing training programs and study tours for staff, delivering a UNESCO–Institute for Water Education (IHE) capacity-building program, financing water quality monitoring equipment, and providing consulting services. The consulting services supported research on an integrated management mechanism for Chao Lake basin based on function zoning, blue-green algae early warning system development based on a water quality-water turbulence model, and water environment intelligent supervision and spatial data management system development.

The project constructed wastewater collection systems in developed urban areas where the wastewater was unsewered and untreated, and intercepted sewer discharges flowed directly into tributaries of Chao Lake. A total of 640 kilometers (km) of the sewer network and 15 wastewater pumping stations were constructed, expanding the capacity of the wastewater collection system by 540,400 cubic meters (m3) per day. The project also built 10 wastewater treatment plants with 176,000 m3/day treatment capacity.

The project dredged 112 km of river course to remove nutrient-rich sediments from the beds of rivers flowing into Chao Lake to prevent excessive plant and algal growth; built 160 km of embankment to reduce soil erosion and enhance the flood protection of adjoining lands; and implemented a solid waste collection and transfer subproject to control a troublesome source of floating objects. It also established 430 hectares (ha) of lakeside and riverine wetlands to reduce nutrient loads going into the lake, enhance habitats for wildlife, and absorb the wind-induced waves that break down the banks. It piloted nonpoint source pollution control in rural areas, focusing on agricultural pollution sources.

As part of nonpoint source pollution control measures, 20 training sessions were conducted in rural communities for technology-extension workers and local farmers on such topics as organic agriculture and certification of organic produce, nonpoint source pollution control technology, principle and method for fertilizer selection and application, green control of pest and diseases, and rice and shrimp co-cropping.

In total, 14 training programs and 14 study tours were organized for Chao Lake Management Authority staff. Capacity building activities covered river basin management and integrated water resources management, eco-compensation, innovative mechanisms on pollution control, regulation formulation and enforcement, ecological restoration and security, nonpoint source pollution control, water quality and hydrodynamics modeling, remote sensing and environmental monitoring, environmental impact assessment, and project management.

In addition, a UNESCO–IHE (Institute for Water Education) capacity building program supported the project through the following activities:

  • facilitated the development of a pilot institutional framework, which clarifies Chao Lake Management Authority’s internal structure and jurisdiction in relation to existing provincial agencies,
  • assessed the technical and administrative training needs of staff,
  • developed the understanding and capacity of staff to apply the principles of integrated water resources management, and
  • established links between the Chao Lake Management Authority and lake and river basin management authorities elsewhere in the PRC and globally to facilitate the exchange of management experiences and knowledge.

Three consulting services packages for study and system development works were also implemented.


Through the sewer network and wastewater treatment plant component, the chemical oxygen demand discharge was reduced by 22,313 tons per year, the ammonia nitrogen discharge by 3,142 tons per year, and the phosphorus discharge by 413 tons per year. Dredging activities removed about 2,506 tons of total nitrogen and 919 tons of total phosphorus from the Chao Lake and its tributaries. Constructed wetlands of 430 ha also helped remove about 15 tons of total phosphorus, 71 tons of chemical oxygen demand, and 36 tons of ammonia nitrogen each year.

Overall, the project benefited approximately 2.54 million people, of whom 49.1% are women and 8.2% from low-income households. Benefits included an improved living environment and better access to water resources. About 1,000 agricultural technology-extension workers and local farmers participated in training sessions on agricultural nonpoint source pollution reduction and environmentally friendly agriculture.

With the project assistance, the Chao Lake Management Authority established its authority and enhanced its capacity for managing the lake basin. Its human resources attained the staff skills needed to achieve its objectives. An information system and monitoring facility was established and has been issuing an annual monitoring report on the ecological health of the lake since 2017.

The government expanded the Chao Lake Management Authority’s original mandate and entrusted it with a greater role in lake basin management. This enhanced the institution’s sustainability as well as demonstrated the strong commitment of the Anhui Provincial Government to integrated water resources management in the lake basin.

The overall water quality in Chao Lake was restored to Class IV in 2021 from Class V in 2010. The water quality of the eight upstream rivers flowing into the Chao Lake with national control sections also largely improved. In 2021, the annual water quality assessment of the national control sections of the lake basin fully reached the required standard. Since 2021, the endangered Ciconia boyciana (Oriental Stork) and Emberiza aureola (Yellow-breasted Bunting) have become frequent visitors to the lake because of the improved aquatic ecosystem. This improvement occurred alongside significant economic growth in the region, with the GDP of the Chao Lake basin increasing from CNY70 million (about $9.7 million) in 2017 to CNY108 million (about $15 million) in 2021, representing an approximate 11% compound annual increase.


Institutional capacity. The creation of a primary institution to manage the lake was important for integrated river basin management. However, turning a good concept into reality took time and required an evolutionary process. At the beginning, the Chao Lake Management Authority struggled to establish its authority and distinguish its responsibilities from related provincial line departments. Persistent efforts enabled the agency’s transformation into an established and recognized lake basin management institution over the past 10 years.

Strengthening its institutional capacity was a critical success factor. The project gave timely support to the Chao Lake Management Authority by improving its technical capacity, providing advanced monitoring facilities, developing a lake management information system, addressing key management issues, and connecting it to international networks.

Effective incentive mechanism. Reducing the agricultural nonpoint source pollution remains to be a challenge in the Chao Lake basin. Since household farming was the major source of livelihood for many years, the increasing labor cost and low environmental literacy of local communities hindered the transition to environmentally friendly agriculture. While an eco-compensation program can provide incentives to farmers, the absence of a cost-effective measure to quantify the pollution emission from a household’s farmland impeded the wide application of an effectiveness-based quantitative incentive mechanism. The increased land circulation for crop farming in recent years offers new opportunity for this endeavor.

Digital governance. Data accessibility and integration are often an issue in the digital governance of a lake basin. The data are usually collected and held by different line departments, such as those on environmental protection, agriculture, land resources, and water resources. The Chao Lake Management Authority successfully addressed this concern by initiating a monitoring system reform to integrate the monitoring data sets for the lake basin. This involved unifying planning, design, indicator system, inspection, software management, and data platforms while allowing different departments to install, operate, and manage the monitoring facilities separately.

[1] According to the PRC Environmental Water Quality Standard GB3838-2002, Class III water is suitable as a supply source for a municipal drinking water treatment plant and for swimming. Class IV water is suitable for use as a general industrial water supply and for recreational use involving no direct human contact with the water. Class V water is suitable only for agricultural water supply and general landscaping use. Class V+ water is unsuitable for any use.

[2] Q. F. Zhang and M. Bennett. 2011. Eco-compensation for Watershed Services in the People’s Republic of China. Manila: Asian Development Bank.

[3] See footnote 1.

Xin Shen

Xin Shen

Senior Project Officer (Natural Resources and Agriculture), East Asia Department, ADB

This blog is reproduced from Development Asia.

How Integrated Urban Solutions Build Inclusive, Sustainable, and Climate-Resilient Cities

Workers transport saplings for building windbreak screens. Photo credit: ADB.

An integrated approach to sustainable and inclusive development helps an oasis city in the People’s Republic of China overcome environmental challenges.


Jiuquan was an oasis on the ancient Silk Road along the Hexi Corridor, an important trade route in the northwestern region of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Located between the southern limits of the Gobi desert and the Qilian Mountains, this city in Gansu province has faced development challenges because of its harsh natural environment. Yet, it has a thriving economy, and it is expected to play a strategic role in the socioeconomic development of the region.

A project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) supported Jiuquan city by implementing an integrated solution to promote environmentally sustainable and inclusive development through improvements in wastewater management, urban transport and related facilities, windbreak plantation, and other services. Climate change mitigation and adaptation measures were introduced in the project design to strengthen the city’s climate resilience and reduce carbon emissions.

The project also strengthened the capacity of the municipal government for sustainable urban planning and development.

Project information

45506-002 : Gansu Jiuquan Integrated Urban Environment Improvement Project in the People’s Republic of China

Project snapshot

      • Approval date: 14 Jun 2013
      • Closing date: 18 May 2021
      • Total project cost: $202.19 million
      • Executing agency: Jiuquan Municipal Government, Gansu Province, People’s Republic of China
      • Financing: Asian Development Bank


Jiuquan is located about 730 kilometers (km) northwest of the provincial capital of Lanzhou. The city’s key industries are renewable energy equipment manufacturing and agricultural product processing. Tourism has increasingly contributed to the city’s economic output based on its rich historic and cultural resources, as well as its status as the launching site of the national space program.

The city has the potential to serve as a vital artery for the relatively less-developed northwestern region of the PRC. The National Strategy for Development of the Western Region sees the city as having a key role in aiding the region’s socioeconomic development.


Jiuquan faces various environmental problems and urban development challenges. It has a continental desert climate with constrained water resources and high evaporation. Sand and dust are carried frequently by strong winds from the desert, causing atmospheric pollution, a high incidence of respiratory illness, and productivity losses.

Beida, the river that flows through Jiuquan, has been gradually polluted by discharges of untreated wastewater from the city. Its water quality is class II for the upstream reach of Jiuquan, class III through the city area, and class IV downstream.[1]

As a water-scarce city undergoing continuous growth, Jiuquan must stem the gradual contamination of its water resources, which endangers public health and safety and constrains its sustainable development.

The increasingly congested urban roads and inadequate infrastructure also limit the city’s ability to promote greater links along the Hexi Corridor and enable socioeconomic development in the northwestern region.


The project supported the city in addressing its challenges through an integrated approach to improving the urban environment and by involving the local community in project design and implementation.

Expand windbreak tree screens. About 60.5 hectares (ha) of windbreak tree screens were planted along the northern and southern banks of the Beida River to reduce the city’s vulnerability to desertification, enhance public amenities, and improve the living environment and public health of residents.

A windbreak plantation education trail was set up to improve public awareness where visitors can learn about the city’s exposure to desertification, the challenges that Jiuquan faces in managing its water resources and air quality, and the benefits of afforestation in protecting the environment and improving the city’s resilience to climate change impacts.

Improve wastewater management and resources reuse. A wastewater treatment plant with a capacity of 60,000 cubic meters (m3) per day and a wastewater collection network with a total length of 44.2 km were constructed. About 18,000 m3 of reclaimed water is used daily for greening and irrigation of the windbreak plantation. Reclaimed water reuse will be increased to 30,000 m3 around 2025. Sludge after dewatering with water content below 60% is disposed to a sanitary landfill. A road map for sludge reuse—such as land improvement, soil conditioner for the windbreak trees plantation, or other agricultural uses, was developed and will be implemented in the near future.

Improve urban road network and facilities. In the expanded urban area, about 15.7 km of roads and two bridges were constructed and upgraded. Associated utility facilities , such as road lighting, pipes for water supply, wastewater, heating, and gas, and conduits for electricity and telecommunication lines, were installed. In the existing central urban area, traffic management and safety systems and 0.8 km of roads were upgraded.

Develop the municipal government’s capacity in urban planning and management. The project trained officials of Jiuquan municipal government and staff of the project implementing agencies in various aspects of urban planning and management. It developed and enhanced plans and strategies in water conservation, wastewater reuse, sludge management, urban transport system, traffic management and safety, and desertification risk management. It also promoted private sector participation to improve the efficiency of municipal services.

Promote local communities’ participation in project design and implementation.

Different groups of local communities were widely consulted to improve road design. Improvements included traffic lights; pedestrian crossings to ensure road safety, especially for children and older persons; and optimization of routes, frequencies, and hours of service as well as links to school and health services before new bus services were put into place.

Representatives were invited to participate in public hearings for wastewater and water tariffs to improve transparency. Water conservation advocacy campaigns were organized annually and delivered through public broadcasts, television, newspapers, the internet, brochures, booklets, billboards, and documentaries, reaching more than 100,000 beneficiaries to improve public awareness and behavior to support saving of water resources.


Improved living conditions and urban infrastructure services.

About 450,800 residents, 218,100 (48%) of them women and 11,333 from low-income households, directly benefitted from the project. They have sustainable access to an improved road network and related services, wastewater management, and landscaped windbreak plantations.

There is now a road linking the high-speed railway station and the Western Suburbs Industrial Zone, reducing travel time at peak hours between the two spots to 25 minutes from 45 minutes. Improved traffic management contributed to substantial reduction in traffic fatality rate to less than 2.5 per 10,000 vehicles from 4.5.

The project provided windbreaks for the city against sandstorms, enhanced public amenities, and improved the living environment and public health of local residents, with additional benefits of carbon sequestration, sand fixation, secured agricultural production, soil conservation, and regulation of micro-climate.

Public satisfaction with the urban environment and ecology increased to 90.5% in 2020 from 84% in 2011.

Improved environment and climate resilience of the city.

The project generated significant environmental benefits. Wastewater collection and treatment rate increased to about 99% from 66%, pollutants discharge to the Beida River was dramatically reduced, and the water quality was improved to grade I from grade III.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation measures that were considered in the project design and carried out during implementation improved the city’s climate resilience. The windbreak forest created 10,104 tons of biomass, absorbed 2,678 tons of carbon dioxide, and released 1,983 tons of oxygen each year. The mitigation measures will gradually reduce the risk of increasing desertification in the long term. The bridges and associated culverts were designed as an adaptive measure against road flooding during torrential rain or heavy flooding with a 1-in-100-year return period. The reuse of the treated wastewater for greening and irrigating the windbreak forests was also an adaptive measure to conserve water resources.

Improved institutional capacity. The Jiuquan municipal government improved its institutional capacity in urban development planning. The strategies developed under the project became part of the city’s integrated long-term development plan.

Water sector management and governance were strengthened through enhanced water conservation and reuse and establishment of private–public partnership.

Public utilities improved their capacity in project design and implementation and assets management, and incorporated the inclusive participatory consultations with various stakeholders, including residents, into their operations.


The project designed and implemented a comprehensive capacity building component that strengthened the municipal government’s institutional capacity in forming strategies for water conservation, resources reuse, traffic management and traffic safety improvement, and desertification risk management. This enhanced the project’s sustainability.

The inclusive and participatory approach in project design promoted social inclusion and equitable access to urban services.

To address the emerging challenges posed by climate change, mitigation and adaptation measures could be considered in the project design and carried out during implementation to improve a city’s resilience to impacts.

[1] The Water Quality Standards (GB 3838-2002) of the People’s Republic of China have five classes. Class I is pristine; class II is for high-value fish production areas and spawning habitats; class III is suitable for urban water supply; class IV is suitable for irrigation and recreation; and class V is polluted and not recommended for human consumption or agricultural use.

Lan Wang

Lan Wang

Senior Project Officer, East Asia Department, ADB

This blog is reproduced from Development Asia.

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