Hebei province covers 187,600 square kilometers of northern People’s Republic of China (PRC). It surrounds PRC’s major cities of Beijing and Tianjin and, like most other provinces in the country, has rapidly urbanized over the past decades. For instance, from 38% of its total 69.4 million people in 2006, the province’s urban population swelled to 55% of the total 75.2 million in 2017.
Growth in urban infrastructure and associated services have not kept pace with the rapid urbanization. Resulting challenges have worsened even while Hebei’s economy has remained underdeveloped, with weak urban–rural linkages, underinvestment, poor urban management, and an industrial sector dominated by highly polluting capital-intensive resource processing industries. By 2007, these challenges have become most evident in severe pollution, rising water shortage, poor public utility services, and the deterioration of the environment.
To prevent the challenges from escalating, Hebei's Eleventh Five-Year Plan (11th FYP) called for the development of a more balanced urban system through the growth of medium-sized cities that can serve as economic centers for surrounding towns. Under the plan, medium-sized cities were to strengthen their physical and economic linkages with smaller cities and towns on their periphery. County-level cities and towns were in turn expected to enhance their economic integration with rural areas, create opportunities for farmers to move to urban areas and gain higher-value employment, and provide rural migrants with a higher standard of living through improved urban infrastructure.
In response to Hebei’s 11 th FYP, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided a loan of $100 million and a grant of $0.25 million from the ADB-administered Water Financing Partnership Facility (WFPF) for the Hebei Small Cities and Towns Development Demonstration Sector Project. The project was processed as a sector loan and grant to allow the government to flexibly respond to the rapidly changing needs of the province’s small cities and towns.
Starting with core subprojects in 3 counties that addressed a representative mix of the key infrastructure and environmental challenges confronting small cities and towns, the project supported a total of 18 subprojects in 11 of Hebei’s poorer counties north and west of Beijing. Institutional development was undertaken to ensure effective implementation of each subproject and sustainable operation and maintenance of the facilities. Using the WFPF grant, the project also provided corporate management training to implementing agencies of water supply and wastewater subprojects.
Successful completion of all subprojects, 4 for wastewater treatment, 6 on water supply, 5 for district heating, and 3 on solid waste management, directly benefited about 1.2 million people. Other residents also benefited primarily by way of improved public health, and air and water quality. Early positive impacts on tourism, industrial development, and urbanization were noted at project completion.
The project began and closed on time, with no cost overrun. Day-to-day implementation was managed by the Hebei Provincial Project Management Office (HPPMO) together with the project management office in each subproject. With support from the HPPMO and the Provincial Project Coordination Group, the Hebei Provincial Government served as executing agency.