Octogenarian Ma Baoping has tasted his first green vegetable thanks to a new supply of water in his village in Dongxiang County of northwest China's Gansu Province.
Prior to his new water catchment cellar, severe shortages meant Ma could spare only enough water to grow potatoes.
He had to walk for more than one hour to collect water from a river, joining scores of others who would make the same journey down the valley day and night.
But now, thanks to the Mother Water Cellar Program conducted by the China Women's Development Fund under the All-China Women's Federation, a special cellar has been built in Ma's yard to collect rainwater.
Ma has planted fresh vegetables in his yard thanks to a guaranteed supply to fill the irrigation system.
"The first thing I do every morning is to see my yard and my fresh vegetable, the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen," Ma said.
The program marked its fifth anniversary in Beijing yesterday and officials have promised to further their efforts to help more people such as Ma.
"Thanks to generous public donations, the program has helped about 1 million rural people to access adequate water since 2001," said Huang Qingyi, vice-chairperson of the All-China Women's Federation.
However, there are still nearly 10 million residents in the western areas of China - especially women and children - struggling with water shortage, Huang said.
"Most people living in the very dry land of western China go years without a bath and mothers have only a gourd of muddy water to cook rice," Huang said.
"They obviously have hygiene problems because of the lack of water," she said.
Sparse rainfall has become the only water source in many villages in some drought-affected western areas including Northwest China's Shaanxi and Gansu provinces and north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The annual rainfall is about 300 millimeters while the annual vaporization is more than 1,500 millimeters, statistics show.
Such extreme conditions contribute to a low quality of life. Education facilities are poor to nonexistent and there is an increased likelihood of disease among women and children.
More water catchment cellars are to be built to help erase such hardship. A typical water vault has a big catch basin. With the yard floor covered with cement, rain water sinks from two or three holes through pipes to the basin below.
After sedimentation and purification, the summer's rainwater collection can provide drinking and irrigation water for a family of three or four for almost a year.
(China Daily May 25, 2005)