KUNMING - China is mobilizing its troops to help the struggling people in the country's drought affected southwest.
1,000 soldiers were on their way to help with drought relief in Yunnan province on Friday, and another 3,000 would be sent in the next few days, said Li Shiming, commander of the Chengdu military command.
Each soldier carries a 25 liter plastic water container and is also equipped with well drilling equipment and sanitation devices.
"The soldiers are prepared for long-term work in the field," Li said.
The drought, the worst in 100 years in Yunnan and parts of Guizhou, would likely continue till May as no substantial rainfall was expected ahead of the rainy season, according to meteorological agencies.
The drought had left 18 million residents and 11.7 million head of livestock in the region with drinking water shortages, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs on Wednesday.
In hardest-hit Yunnan, 8.1 million people and 5.4 million head of livestock face drinking water shortage. The drought has affected 3.1 million hectares of crops, 87 percent of total.
Before the arrival of the new troops, other troops and local paramilitary forces have been engaged in the relief work.
They have regularly shipped water to villages and helped villagers find new sources of water. The army has also sent technicians to teach farmers how to save water for farming.
At Seshuba village in Mengding in the southwestern part of Yunnan, a seriously-hit area, troops have carried water every day to about 2,200 villagers there from the nearest water source.
Wang Xiaofeng, a 73-year-old widow, told Xinhua that soldiers have carried water to her house every week since late last year.
"The water tank in my house has never dried up thanks to the soldiers," she said.
Jia'er village of Xuanwei lies in the mountains with an altitude of about 2,000 meters and villagers in the past have survived on rain water as there was no well nearby.
However, recently a small group of paramilitary forces helped them dig a well, 6 km away from the village, and built pipelines to the village.
"It is our responsibility to help the people," Li said. "We will try our best to work with local governments in drought relief."