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Villages play waiting game in war against drought
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Qixian Reservior in Liudian town, Henan province, dries up last week following the long period of abnormally low rainfall. [Gao Shanyue/China Daily]

Qixian Reservior in Liudian town, Henan province, dries up last week following the long period of abnormally low rainfall. [Gao Shanyue/China Daily] 

A 1.5-hour drive northwest is Ruzhou county, home to around 1 million - more than 90 percent farmers. Full of plains and hills, it was the first county in Pingdingshan to start drought relief work.

"We borrowed more than 1 million tons of water from reservoirs in nearby counties," said Han Jianguo, deputy chief of local water resources. "Two of our four medium reservoirs dried up, as have 17 of the 26 small ones."

Ruzhou started its relief work before Christmas and managed to irrigate nearly all of its 550,000-mu plain fields. When it came to doing it a second time, however, the county ran out of water.

Angou Reservoir, one of Ruzhou's largest, has a water storage capacity of 9 million tons. But when diversion started on Dec 20, its reserves totaled a mere 1.9 million tons, the lowest level in history. With only 200,000 tons of water, Angou, as with all other local reservoirs - each built no later than the 1970s - is spent.

"I think the irrigation done so far is enough," said Han. "Rain would be a bonus. But realistically, the drought conditions can't be resolved unless we get rainfall of at least 15 mm."

Although Henan received an average rainfall of 6 mm at the weekend, Pingdingshan had no more than 4 mm.

Elsewhere in Pingdingshan and much of the province, especially in areas near hills and mountains, finding drinking water has become the priority, rather than irrigation.

Most young migrant workers have already left after the Lunar New Year holiday, some returning to jobs, others seeking new ones amid the deepening economic crisis. Only women, children and the elderly have stayed behind, trying to buy enough water while waiting for the drought to end.

It may seem natural that the need to survive is put before the irrigation of crops in times of disaster. But even out on the fields, where water resources are abundant, many farmers have chosen to just wait it out.

For farmer Zhang Shufeng in Yexian county, the lack of facilities is to blame for his unwillingness to irrigate. "We've only got 20 wells for 1,800 mu of farmland and many haven't been fixed since the 1970s," he told China Daily before the rain on Saturday.

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