One of Gansu Party Secretary Lu Hao's main priorities is to help millions of residents of his province gain access to safe drinking water.
"As one of the poorest and driest areas in China, having drinking water for each person is a matter of social welfare that comes even before food," Lu told the China Central Television in an interview on Wednesday.
Droughts and dry spells are common in this mountainous, semi-arid province with a population of more than 27 million.
The people depend primarily on rain-fed substance agriculture.
"In central Gansu, areas like Huining County get less than 300 millimeters of rain a year," Lu said. "There is no surface or ground water on the plateau. People have to carry water from deep gullies."
Zhao Rui, a Huining native and a student at university in Beijing, said even washing one's feet was a luxury in his town.
"I told my classmates that people in my town take only three baths in their lives: after birth, before getting married and after they die," Zhao said.
"They don't believe me. They said, 'you are so humorous'."
Totally dependant on the rain, locals in mountainous areas have been harvesting rainfall since the 1980s.
Then in the 1990s the Gansu provincial government initiated a "1-2-1" rainwater harvesting project, under which the government and donors provide 1,000 yuan (US$120) worth of cement and steel to individual households, allowing them to build one collection field and two underground tanks and to irrigate one piece of land with rainwater. The goal is to develop a "courtyard economy".
The project has spread throughout the province's mountainous areas, providing water for both household and crop use.
"Such projects benefited two million people by the end of last year," Lu said.
However, the 1-2-1 project is not so applicable in areas with less rainfall.
"We have other solutions: one is to introduce and pump nearby water resources up to villages in the surrounding mountains and plateaus," the official said.
Another method is to excavate deep wells and treat ground water to make it potable.
These methods could provide 210,000 people with drinking water and irrigation.
Moreover, the official said, the ongoing project to divert water from the Taohe River, a tributary of the Yellow River, will benefit three million people after it is completed within the next five years.
Between 2000 and 2004 the State has brought drinking water to more than 4.85 million people in Gansu, costing about US$150 million.
(China Daily March 9, 2007)