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DEVELOPMENT: Chinese Step In, Efficiently

Sanjay Suri

ISTANBUL, May 16 2011 (IPS) - For Jany Chen from Shanghai, concern often-raised in Europe and North America about the Chinese invasion of Africa is a lot of wasteful talk that deserves to be flushed down the toilet. Efficiently.

Jany Chen, CEO of Shanghai Environmental Group, speaks with IPS. Credit: Sanjay Suri/IPS

Jany Chen, CEO of Shanghai Environmental Group, speaks with IPS. Credit: Sanjay Suri/IPS

Chen is chief executive officer of the Shanghai Yiyuan Environmental Group, a company that claims breakthrough technology in conservation of water. Chen dismisses suggestions that the company could have an exploitative interest in Africa.

“This is absolutely not the case for our company,” she told IPS. “Because what we offer is a very efficient and very hi-tech water saving solution for toilets. The traditional toilet will use either six litres or nine litres of water to flush clean the toilet but what we use is just one cup of water. So what we can offer is to save the environment rather than exploit the environment.”

The system abandons the conventional siphon pipe for a fast ‘blow-down’ of about a cupful of water, operated by a foot switch. The company, that has an extensive research and development centre in Shanghai, has filed for patents for this technology, Chen says.

Shanghai Environmental Group has made some high profile demonstrations of its technology recently – it was used in the U.N. pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo. Now the company is looking for business – rather than looking at criticism over such business.

“As far as the company and ourselves are concerned, we don’t care much about those false claims,” says Chen. “Because we believe the actual deeds will speak louder than empty words. We will just go to African nations and contribute our solutions and services to local people. And those people will see the value of our technologies and solutions.”

The company held discussions with representatives of several of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) during the Fourth U.N. Conference on the LDCs (LDC-IV) in Istanbul last week.

“This is the purpose of our participation in the LDC conference, to take this technology also to Africa,” said Chen. “We hope that through the public sectors and private sectors we can provide the right water conservation solutions to the Least Developed Countries, including African nations.”

The technology would be greatly beneficial, she said. “Many of the LDCs on the African continent are facing a severe shortage of water. So we can help them save that valued and limited water resource.”

The new toilet technology’s prime market remains China itself. More than 400 of 667 Chinese cities are reported to suffer from water shortage to varying degrees, and more than 110 are reported to be in a state of acute scarcity. The company says toilets consume the largest quantities of water, and discharge the greatest amounts of waste.

Chen says countries would like to jointly create more local employment. “Also, with our solutions people can spend less on water consumption, so they will feel rich. And the government will spend less to treat wastewater. So the government will be richer. So this is an all-win solution. Quite contrary to the notion that we go there to exploit natural resources, we go there to help local people save natural resources and to protect water resources.”

The company says it is seeking to work with international organisations to launch water-efficient systems. “As a private business concern we will just focus on what we are very good at,” says Chen.

Private sector engagement and involvement now has official blessing to the extent that a parallel ‘private sector track’ was set up throughout the weeklong LDC conference, May 9-13.

The Chinese don’t move without ‘sayings’. “There’s a Chinese saying that water can float a ship, but also sink it,” says Chen.

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