Clean water for the Pearl River through eco-sanitation

2004 Winner

The Yunnan Environmental Development Institute is a local environmental NGO in Kunming, China, registered under Kunming Civil Affairs Bureau in 2003, focusing on supporting activities aimed at improving the environment in Yunnan Province as well as the neighboring areas in western China and the adjacent countries to the south, as part of the overall drive for a more sustainable development in the region.

More information about the organisation

YEDI’s founding members and supporters have different technical backgrounds and a number of renowned local and international experts can be drawn on to assist in the design and implementation of specific local development projects and programs. YEDI cooperates with other local NGOs and initiatives on specific issues, governmental institutions as well as universities. Through its close links with YEPB and other relevant governmental institutions, YEDI enjoys good governmental support for the work it endeavors. Yunnan Environmental Protection Bureau (YEPB) YEPB is a department-level authority directly under Yunnan Provincial Peoples Government responsible for environmental protection in Yunnan.


Protection and rehabilitation of the upstream water sources of the Pearl River system through the use of innovative eco-sanitation measures without any resettlements for lake residents and tourists in Xian Ren-dong village and tourist spot. The project was based on the overall Master Plan for Puzhehei Lake protection and rehabilitation, which was ap-proved in June 2004 by the local authorities.

Project Description

The project aims at contributing to the development and testing of innovative eco-sanitation, dual waste management and biogas production from livestock fecal matter. This should result in reduced water pollution, higher living standards and raised awareness for watershed protection. It has a good chance to be replicated in other areas of Yunnan and South-Western China. The catchment area of the watershed encompasses Xianrendong and Puzhehei villages in the upper reaches of Pearl River, Wenshan prefecture, which is one of the most scenic karst areas of China. More than half a million tourists visit the eighty shallow plateau lakes around Puzhehei every year. However, increasing pressure on water resources due to human excrements, animal husbandry and intense agriculture have led to a dramatic drop in the quality of the Puzhehei watershed over the past few years. Therefore a comprehensive master plan for protecting the Puzhehei Lake watershed was developed and approved in May 2004 by the Wenshan prefecture. Comprehensive waste management The awarded project is a major cornerstone of this plan that includes measures for reducing further pollution of the lake and its adjoining wetlands. It is strongly supported by the Yunnan Environmental Protection Bureau (YEPB) and the local governmental authorities, which have created the Puzhehei Management Committee. Its tasks encompass the promotion of innovative eco-sanitation, dual waste management and biogas production from livestock fecal matter in Xianrendong and Puzhehei. These measures should result in higher living standards, raised awareness for watershed protection and a reduction in water pollution.

Country / Region

Yunnan province is situated in South-Western China and is bordering to Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and the following Chinese provinces: Tibet, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guanxi. It is famous for its rich biodiversity and for local cultures (including 25 minorities). Yunnan is a region where six important rivers originate (Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong, Red River, Perl River and Yangzi), and it functions as the water reservoir for millions of people and for many industrial plants in the densely populated Southern part of China. This ReSource Award 2004 winning project encompasses measures at Xianrendong (= ‘immortal cave’; 820 inhabitants) and Puzhehei (= ‘rich water’; 4,050 inhabitants) villages in the upper reaches of the Perl River. These villages are part of Wenshan prefecture and situated in one of the most scenic karst areas of China: more than 500,000 tourists per year visit the 80 shallow plateau lakes, caves, lotus flowers ponds and the rich culture of Yi, Miao and Zhuang minorities around Puzhehei.


The main income of the farmers is based on rice, tobacco, corn, chili, lotus, grapes, fish and animal husbandry. The average income is 1,000 RMB (125 USD; RMB and CNY are the official abbreviations for the Chinese Yuan) per year and person, the average age is 30 years. Additionally, tourism is a fast growing income for the region (17% in 2005). Through increasing pressure on water resources due to human excrements, animal husbandry and intense agriculture the quality of the Puzhehei watershed dropped over the past years.

Chances / Risks

For sustainability reasons of the project the following recommendations in the upscaling should be considered: • Set-up an environmental fund for integrated watershed management measures to protect the Puzhehei watershed (already partly planned on prefecture level) • Intensify environmental education to further improve local knowledge and habits • Finalise documentary video on goals and impacts of measures as accompanying step to promote the upscaling of the project

Participation of the communities

Leading Chinese experts on eco-sanitation along with experts from YEDI and YEPB were assessing the feasibility of planned measures and prepared a detailed activity plan for the project. An exposure visit to Guanxi province where ecosanitation projects are already implemented took place in July 2005. Representatives of Xianrendong and Puzhehei village and officials of Wenshan Prefecture participated in the study tour. This gave a strong impetus to the start off the construction work. It provided deeper understanding of the construction, use of urine-diverting toilets and benefits for the local stakeholders. In August 2005, an initial stakeholder workshop was held in Puzhehei with 40 participants from different villages. It aimed at introducing the project and discussing goals, roles and responsibilities with a variety of local stakeholders, officials of Wenshan Prefecture Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) and the Mayor of Qiubei County. In order to successfully launch the various planned measures specific training was provided in two steps. Firstly, qualified technical experts at provincial level provided “training of trainers (ToT)” to local institutions. Secondly, the previously trained trainers provided day-to-day coaching and supervision at local construction sites. With this approach it was possible to strengthen local ownership and to reduce costs by active involvement of villagers (in-kind contributions).

Project monitoring

Swiss Re Foundation decided to evaluate the projects funded by its ReSource Award after completion of project implementation in 2006 by a water management expert. The project evaluation aimed at auditing the planned and achieved goals, the resource allocation and the project reporting. On provincial and project management level YEDI and YEPB were monitoring the project development and adapting some project activities. One challenge is the long distance between Kunming and the project site (a 5-7 hours journey). Therefore, all local activities had to be sub-contracted to competent and reliable authorities or experts at the county / prefecture level. Qualified technical experts were involved where necessary.

Project update - On site visit by Swiss Re Foundation in 2006

In 2006 the measures of the pilot project were successfully implemented. Some of the original goals were even exceeded: instead of 20 more than 100 urine-diverting toilet units were installed in the two villages. As planned, one urine-diverting school toilet with 10 pits was installed at Xianrendong primary school. But due to high groundwater levels only 10 of 20 biogas units could be installed. The eco-sanitation installations are functioning well and are accepted by the farmers. Their living standards have improved and water pollution has been reduced. The continuous involvement of all affected stakeholders right from the beginning has been a key success factor. Building on this successful introductory project, similar activities have since been launched at regional and even national level. Furthermore, the eco-sanitation concept is being integrated in the new five year plan of Wenshan prefecture. In view of this evident success, Swiss Re Foundation decided to support a second project phase that goes beyond the original commitment. In this phase an additional 28 dry toilets have been built, animal waste collection and a treatment pilot system has been installed and environmental education for families and villages improved. Furthermore, a pilot pond system for wastewater treatment will be established. In addition to the funding from Swiss Re Foundation, a German NGO is supporting the activities, with a focus on animal waste treatment to prevent ground and lake surface water pollution and on demonstrating the effective replacement of coal with biogas in local household distilleries.

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Yunnan Environmental Development Institute (YEDI), Kunming, People’s Republic of China
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Winner 2004 China

Yunnan Environmental Development Institute (YEDI), Kunming, People’s Republic of China
Henry Voigt