March 29, 2010

CHINA: Saving water, but too little too late in a village run dry

. BEIJING, China / The People's Daily / China Society / March 29, 2010 By Lin Meilian in Guizhou Ma Zhiyou is in his early 50s, but rock dust has whitened his hair and reddened his eyes, making him look much older. His blue coat is dusty and smelly, unwashed for weeks as villagers try to save every drop of water they can in the drought that has ravaged farmlands in Guizhou Province. Ma is one of about 60 villagers who are busy building a reservoir on a mountaintop in Liuchang county, Qingzhen. Here, 90 percent of the village wells have run dry. The drought has killed crops, dried up riverbeds and left 17,000 people and 15,500 livestock thirsting for clean drinking water. "We live off nature and believed that nature would solve the problem by itself," Ma told a Global Times reporter on the mountaintop. "So we wait and wait…no rain since October … our farmland, drinking water and wells all dried up." Photograph added for illustration purposes Guizhou: Market Days in China’s Poorest Province Filed by Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott on Uncorneredmarkets This is a familiar scene in many parched rural areas where an antiquated water conservancy system is now too old to function and the idea of "living off nature" ran too deeply for anyone to have considered upgrading the old hydro facility. The idea of building a reservoir to utilize limited water resources in a more efficient way never crossed the minds of villagers until the six-month-long drought worsened day by day. Now they are desperate. The villagers work night and day on top of the 800-meter mountain to build the reservoir that will hold 600 cubic meters of water pumped up from a river below. In early March, the local government poured in 10 million yuan and launched the project. It is the first emergency anti-drought project in Liuchang since the dry spell began last autumn. "When it is done," Ma says, pointing at the top of the mountain, "at least we can have water to drink." There is no water reservoir in the village. The 2,500 cisterns they used to save a limited amount of water have run dry. Ma and his family must carry water jugs on their shoulders from a river 2.5 kilometers away. They need to make the difficult trek twice a day to feed three people, two cattle and four pigs. Some villagers have sold their livestock rather than let the animals die of thirst. But the project is backbreaking labor. Ma Dengju, 27, bent under the weight of a heavy bamboo basket of cement on his back, moved slowly to the other side of the mountain. Villagers are paid to do this heavy labor by hand because large construction vehicles cannot climb the steep mountain. "One, two, three, stone GO!" you hear the villagers grunt as they lift giant stones by hand and use simple tools to dig out the water diversion ditch. The project is expected to be finished within a month. Water will be pumped up from the Zhuqiao River, literally translated as "Pig Bridge," although pigs might not get a single drop of clean water to drink. "Clean water to let pigs drink?" Are you kidding me?" a villager named Zhou Mingfa said. "Every morning, I wash my face with clean water, then save it to wash my feet, and then save it to let the pigs drink." Major water saving measures The Ministry of Water Resources said Sunday that the country will step up water conservation infrastructure construction to better cope with natural disasters. The central government has allocated over 80 billion yuan ($11.7 billion) this year for water conservation projects. Total investment in the sector is expected to hit 200 billion yuan, vice minister Jiao Yong said at a work conference in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Meanwhile, repair and maintenance work on reservoirs in poor condition will be boosted this year, said Sun Jichang, a senior official with the ministry. China needed to reinforce a total of 6,240 faulty reservoirs in the three years leading up to 2010. So far, only 2,000 of them have been reinforced as insufficient local funding or possible misuse of funds has delayed the work, Sun said. All reservoir repair work will be finished by the end of the year. [rc] Source: Xinhua Copyright by People's Daily Online