Chinese help get 'water out' in Africa

By Chen Jialu (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-02-05 07:13

It is an exciting moment for people in the drought-stricken villages of central Zambia when they see the first stream of fresh water spurting from a newly dug well.

The whole village cheers: "Water out!"

"It's just like a countdown for the arrival of a New Year," said Lin Xiaobing, a project manager for China Jiangxi Corporation for International Economic & Technical Cooperation.

"The villagers put their hands in the water and cup them together to drink from the well," Lin told China Daily in an interview.

Lin's company, the general contractor for a well-digging project under China's African aid program, began working in Zambia in 2004. Since then, Lin and his colleagues have sunk more than 1,500 wells there.

Before the project started, there was no normal water supply for most rural places in Zambia, Lin said. The only water source for locals was said to be from big pits they dug to conserve water in the rainy seasons.

But, "the prospected well sites are scattered over isolated and mountainous areas with poor or even no access to roads," said Wang Liya, the chief representative of the Jiangxi company in Beijing. Wang was Lin's predecessor in Zambia in the 1990s. "It usually takes longer and costs more to reach the sites than to actually sink a well."

Wang and his colleagues once had to cross two rivers and trudge along 170 kilometers of desert to reach a site.

Wang said that the locals had provided excellent support for his team. "They let us Chinese workers live in the village's best shack, and often volunteered to help look after the sinking equipment at night," Wang said.

"In the rainy seasons when the roads became muddy swamps that couldn't be driven on, the local people carted wood and moved rocks to level up the road and helped tow our car out of the mud," he said.

Pumping stations

Like Lin's company from Jiangxi, many other Chinese firms have taken on the difficult task of providing clean drinking water and pumping stations for irrigation in Africa.

Wang Peng, a project manager from China International Water and Electric Corp, has been working in Sudan since 1998 building pumping stations.

"We built a workshop from the sand, drilled wells by ourselves to get clean water, generated our own electricity, and took baths in the Nile River," he said.

In Sudan, the temperature reaches up to 65C too high to even show up on a thermometer. Workers had to wear gloves on the construction site to prevent their hands from being scalded by the steel, said Wang Peng.

But the rewards come when the first spring of water spews from the pump and local Muslim Sudanese "Thank Allah" and kill a cow to celebrate, he said.

"We often received the first batch of grain harvested by the locals," he said.

Wang said when he returned to the places where he had worked, some areas that had been deserts had gradually turned into oases because of the irrigation.

(China Daily 02/05/2007 page3)

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