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Balancing Development, Environment and Health: Shenqiu County, Henan

Balancing Development, Environment and Health: Shenqiu County, Henan

Since the 1990s, the impact of water pollution on public health in the Huai River Basin has been an issue of government and public concern. Like many other rural areas, the region pursued industrialization as a development strategy and small industries and workshops proliferated, releasing their waste directly into the river and its tributaries. Paper and leather factories caused a particularly serious risk to health and a five-year study by the China Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) later found a correlation between changes in water quality and the incidence of upper digestive tract cancer in the region.

From the mid-1990s, provinces along river’s banks began to take steps to address pollution, closing down small factories. But without a fundamental shift in the development strategy of the area, these intermittent crackdowns had limited effect. Since the early 2000s, the local government has taken a more comprehensive approach towards pollution control, concentrating industries in industrial parks with improved pollution mitigation, recruiting cleaner industries into the area, and emphasizing higher value agricultural activities. This transition away from low-capital, polluting industry is typical of many of China’s early industrializing areas.

As the result of these efforts, water quality in the main stream of the Huai River and some of the tributaries has improved considerably. However other tributaries remain polluted and ground water is also contaminated, presenting a continuing health threat. Meanwhile, as it enters a new phase of development, the region faces new challenges and questions, including the economic and environmental sustainability of the new industries, addressing pollution from high input agriculture and dealing with household waste.

This project focuses on understanding the impacts of industrialization and urbanization, mediated through changes in land use and livelihood activities, on the environment and on human health in the Huai Basin. It builds on the CDC study, which has excellent longitudinal data on environmental quality and health for 14 counties from 1982 to 2009.  With this as a backdrop, an interdisciplinary team from four institutions is conducting in depth research on Shenqiu County, in the Zhoukou region of Henan, which experienced severe levels of pollution and a sharp rise in digestive tract cancer during the 1990s.

The study includes a review of the experience of the county from 1982 to 2009 and an analysis of current challenges and opportunities. It will assess the major environment and health challenges that Shenqiu faces now, and their drivers in changing patterns of land use and livelihoods, as well as the larger policy context.  It will consider the constraints and opportunities for addressing these problems and the implications for national, regional and local policy.

The interdisciplinary project team includes experts with backgrounds in medical and economic geography, land use and development, public policy, and sociology.

Project team

Wang Wuyi. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (CAS-IGSNRR)

Jennifer Holdaway, Social Science Research Council China Environment and Health Initiative (SSRC-CEHI))

Su Yang, State Council Development Research Centre


Ran Shenghong, CAS-IGSNRR

Li Hairong, CAS-IGSNRR

Ye Bixiong, China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention

Chen Ajiang, Hohai University

Project consultants

Yang Gonghuan, China CDC

Zhang Shiqiu, Beijing University

Yang Linsheng, CAS-IGSNRR

Zheng Rui, CAS-Institute of Psychology

Project partner 

Shenqiu County Government