FUYUAN, Yunnan - Deng Fenxian and her husband are busy digging a hole these days to build a water cellar to fight a severe drought in the southwest of the country.
Overnight, building water cellars instead of finding water topped the agendas of all the 149 families in Heinitang village, Fuyuan county of Yunnan province, after the local government said it would later try to fill them.
A water cellar looks like a 3-meter-deep jar half buried in the ground, which can meet a family-of-three's needs for water for half a year.
"If the government sends water as promised, drinking water will not be a difficulty," Deng told China Daily, licking her dry lips. She said the cement and sand used in building the cellars are available for free from the local authorities. Her family has not taken a shower for nearly a month.
Like Deng, many people have taken warning from the severe drought to start setting up water reservation facilities, such as building water cellars and digging wells.
"The drought shows there is a great shortage of basic facilities and investments in water resources projects," Gu Binjie, deputy director of the rural water resources department of the Ministry of Agriculture, said on Thursday.
Most farmers live at the mercy of nature in the five provinces in Southwest China hit by the drought, which have few water irrigation facilities or storage methods.
By the end of 2007, China had built 87,000 water reservoirs, with more than 40 percent of them now in need of repair. Over half of the 120 million hectares of farmland in the country are irrigated by rainfall, according to the Ministry of Water Resources.
Under such circumstances, the severe drought has overwhelmed the country's fragile water system.
As of Tuesday, the drought has affected more than 6.4 million hectares of farmland and left more than 20 million people and 11 million livestock without adequate water. In an effort to remedy the situation, about 1 billion yuan ($146 million) has been allocated to drought relief, according to the latest figures from the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.
Long Chunhua, head of Fucun town of Fuyuan county, said that all the farmland in the town has been abandoned, because the precious water is needed for people to drink.
Li Shujiang, deputy chief of the water resources bureau of Zunyi in neighboring Guizhou province, told Xinhua News Agency that in the face of the severe drought, the water resources facilities in the city cannot work, because more than 50 percent of them are in need of maintenance.
The drought is expected to bring direct economic losses of up to 11 billion yuan in Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, as well as in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. Crop production will be reduced by 50 percent of last year's yield, Zhang Yi, director of the national farming technique promotion center of the Ministry of Agriculture, told People's Daily.
(China Daily 03/19/2010 page4)