Villagers struggle, as water dries up

As the Gobi desert on China’s northern frontier continues to bear down on Beijing, the acute water shortages that have plagued the Chinese capital and surrounding areas have only become more and more acute.

As China moves into the final stages of a brobdingnagian south-north water diversion project, those in arid and less well-off regions can only wait and hope.

Water shortages have plagued the village of Shuimo, west of Beijing, for years. Villagers like Shang Runbao often have to travel long distances to bring back the precious supply. A pump only provides a partial solution.

"Without enough drinking water, I take my grocery cart to bring back three oil cans and several mineral bottles of tapwater for the family’s water bottles, cooking, and drinking use," said Shang.

Shang’s problems are on the extreme end, but the issue has only become worse as declining rainfall and exploding population growth have strained water resourced to the limit.

Many say the root of the problem is not simply insufficient water and that Beijing needs to rethink its development speed and scale.

Cost is also a factor.

While the project to divert water from south to the capital will cost at least 60 billion US dollars, consumers are largely insulated from paying their share.

"Raising the price of water can not only reimburse some of the cost, but more importantly, it helps to encourage water conservation in society. But fresh water is a basic living commodity that can not be too expensive for residents’ daily use,” said Shen Dajun, a professor at Beijing’s Renmin University.

Villagers like Shang say they are willing to pay a little more for water from a reliable supply but warned that the diversion project would not solve Beijing’s underlying water problems.

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