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China to clean up its water – with a little help from Denmark

Researchers from Aarhus University are contributing to ensuring sufficient clean water in China in an EU project that can also benefit European businesses.

2018.09.05 | Janne Hansen

Ensuring water quality in China will be given a helping hand from Danish researchers - including from Aarhus University. Photo: Colourbox

Chinese has a water problem. In the first place, many parts of the country do not have sufficient water. In the second place, the water is strongly polluted. This poses problems for human health, food security and the environment. 

A team of researchers from Aarhus University, among others, will help find solutions to the problem via an EU project. Denmark is a strong leader of the project in that it is the world’s only country that depends 100 percent on groundwater for its water supply.   

The overall aim of the project is to support the drawing up and implementation of Chinese policy, legislature, standards and measures that can ensure improved management, use and protection of groundwater resources as well as improved decentral water purification facilities. These initiatives are intended to pave the way for European state-of-the-art solutions and technologies. 

Securing access to water in the rural areas and maintaining food security for the Chinese population as a whole are the two greatest risk factors for China’s social stability. The country has deliberately followed the path of ”develop now – repair later” with the aim of, among other things, producing food for a growing demand. This course has led to significant improvements in the standard of living for large portions of the Chinese population, but at a high cost to the country’s environment and natural resources.     

The problems are particularly obvious in the northern regions where there is very little rainfall. This puts the water resources under pressure. In addition, the production of food has been alarmingly non-sustainable, which affects groundwater quality. The area has the world’s largest consumption of commercial fertiliser per hectare, an inefficient use of animal manure, and an intensive use of pesticides. To top it off, the groundwater is strongly polluted with unwanted elements such as arsenic, nickel and iodine.    

In order to ensure continued social and economic growth, including a sustainable food production, action must be taken, and that is precisely what the four-year EU project with GEUS (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland) as the project coordinator will be doing. The contribution of Aarhus University to the project is its expertise in efficient and water-saving irrigation. 

- We will test the experience and technologies that we have developed in the EU in rural areas in China with scarce water resources. We will also identify and prioritise water-saving investments and public action plans in areas with irrigation on a large scale in the Yellow River Basin, says Aarhus University’s participant in the project, Senior Researcher Finn Plauborg from the Department of Agroecology. 

- The fact that GEUS contacted us in the Department of Agroecology was not only because of our expertise in irrigation techniques and water-saving irrigations strategies, but also because we collaborated with GEUS in the Danish Pesticide Leaching Assessment Programme (PLAP), which is also an important theme in the new project, Finn Plauborg adds. 

Facts about the project

Name: Rural Water and Food Security (PI RURAL)

Funding: 1.2 million euros from the EU Commission’s China-EU Water Platform (CEWP)

Duration: Four years (2018-2022)

Partners:  GEUS (project coordinator), Aarhus University, Finnish Environmental Institute and Cordoba University

Additional partners: Chinese environmental authorities and research institutions, including Water Resources Institute Shandong Province, China Institute of Geo-Environment Monitoring, China Geological Survey, Water Resources Management Center, Center for Agricultural Water Research in China, China Agricultural University, Yellow River Conservancy Commission, China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research, Southern University of Science and Technology,  University of Jinan and Hohai University

For more information please contact:


Senior Researcher Finn Plauborg, Department of Agroecology, email: finn.plauborg@agro.au.dk, telephone: +45 8715 7714, mobile: +45 2218 1809


Agro, DCA