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China’s water and sanitation crisis

Guest blog by Angela Ni, Fulbright Fellow 2010-2011, Yunnan, China (

“Clean water should be recognized as a human right,” wrote the PLoS Medicine editors in a 2009 editorial.  I entirely agree, and will be exploring this issue over the next year.  I will be living in Yunnan Province, China, studying the nation’s water and sanitation crisis and will blog regularly from the field.

Angela Ni

Every day, China faces the challenge of distributing 7% of global water resources to roughly 20% of the world’s population. Just this past year, 1.3 billion people in southwestern China were faced with their worst water shortage in 100 years. I will have an up close view of this situation over the next year, as I travel to Yunnan Province, one of the worst affected regions in this drought, to study the health implications of China’s water and sanitation crisis as a Fulbright student scholar.

In partnership with leading medical experts at Kunming Medical College and the Yunnan Health and Development Research Association, I will examine programs with the potential to scale-up sanitation technologies that can simultaneously reduce the risk of outbreaks of diarrheal, water-borne diseases and also address the region’s severe water insecurity. One such system is the use of biogas toilets in China’s more rural village environments. Since the 1970s, Chinese government officials have promoted biogas technologies, both at the home and communal scale.  Human and animal effluent are collected in an airtight biogas tanks, and fecal pathogens are removed by anaerobic digestion .  No water is required to maintain these units, further preventing the contamination of water resources. This is an especially vital design element in regions already suffering from water shortages.

Unfortunately, when I tell people in the United States that I am in China on a Fulbright studying toilets and sanitation, one of the more common responses is, “wow, there’s a lot of work to be done there” or “I pity you!”  It is due to this perception amongst many Americans, one that treats China as behind in addressing the basic needs of it citizens, that misconceptions abound, and the United States and China forgo opportunities to learn and work with each other towards a mutually beneficial development.  By documenting, translating, and exposing these efforts my research will highlight the health and environmental impact such projects have on improving the livelihoods of rural communities, not just in China, but potentially around the world.

Angela Ni graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with honors in Political Economy.  Joining the rank of over 300,000 Fulbright student scholars who have participated in the U.S.’s largest international exchange program, Ni’s project builds on her undergraduate honors thesis, the “politics of sanitation and human waste”.  After graduating, Ni worked as a research analyst in the Global Health Group at UCSF, where she focused on access to health services and quality care in areas of maternal and neonatal health, reproductive health and malaria.  She looks forward to a career in international health policy with an eye to socio-culturally sensitive health interventions.

  1. Hi, ni, so nice to meet you in Kunming,
    hope you will use to the life there and go ahead with your study.
    keep smiling.

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