Across China: From dirty to clean: a tale of Xinjiang drinking water

URUMQI, July 11 (Xinhua) -- Yarmamat Islam has taken water from three different sources: flood pits, water towers and taps.

For residents living near the Taklimakan Desert in Xinjiang, access to water all year round has never been easy. Compared with his ancestors, Yarmamat is one of the lucky ones.

FLOOD PITS: DIRT AND DISEASE

When Yarmamat was a child, his parents and fellow villagers would divert summer floods into pits in the ground. The village would depend on water stored there from June to November.

This was the way people in Hotan Prefecture had survived water shortages for hundreds of years.

Not only people, but household animals such as donkeys and sheep also drank from the pits. As time went by, animal waste, fallen leaves and litter accumulated in the pits. The water turned green and foul.

Villagers had to remove the waste when fetching water and let it settle before boiling it. Even so, the dirty water meant villagers suffered from typhoid, dysentery and cholera.

Such difficulties with water were a major hurdle in tackling poverty.

Flood pits were still a common scene Hotan villages until the 1990s.

"No matter if it was diarrhea or goiter waiting ahead, we had no choice but to drink from the flood pits. They guaranteed the survival of our ancestors and us," Yarmamat said.

GROUNDWATER: HAPPINESS BEGINS TO FLOW

In the 1980s, the central government launched a campaign to drill wells, build water towers and lay pipelines to solve the drinking problem.

Due to a harsh natural environment and weak economy, the campaign in Hotan progressed slowly. Many farmers still heavily depended on flood pits.

In 1995, the central government was determined to solve the problem in the three coming years by expanding government investment and using private funds.

Driven by a 300 million yuan (44 million U.S. dollars) special government fund, non-governmental sectors chipped in and raised 15 million yuan in just a month.

More than 600 water towers were soon erected and 5,000 wells drilled across Hotan. Local residents were finally liberated from the heavy labor of fetching water from flood pits and had more time to pasture and farm.

With more income and the extinction of water-caused infectious diseases, living standards improved.

Yarmamat now serves hot tea in his new home.

"The groundwater is clean and easy to access, and does not taste as bitter as pit water. My guests do not have to worry about stomach ache," he said.

TAP WATER: A NEW STANDARD

To supply high quality tap water to local residents, construction started again in the water treatment plants in Hotan this year.

This is one of the major projects led by the city of Beijing to aid Hotan's development. It will improve the quality of tap water in accordance with Beijing standards, which is higher than the national tap water standard.

Upon completion, the 300,000 residents from different ethnic groups in Hotan will have access to high quality water to the same standards as Beijing.

"We will not only provide sanitary water to local people, but also healthy water," said Wang Zhaolong, a Beijing official engaged in Xinjiang assistance work in Hotan.

In March 2010, the Chinese government initiated a "pairing assistance" program to support Xinjiang in building new infrastructure and developing local industry. The program requires 19 provinces and cities to support Xinjiang development.

Beijing cadres in Xinjiang have come to understand the water quality in Hotan over the past six years.

"Heavy scale can be found in the pot after being used for only two weeks. Plenty of cadres suffered renal calculus and cholelithiasis during their time in Xinjiang," said Zhang Fengbo, an inland doctor who is working in the region.

"More than 70 percent of my patients suffered lithiasis in 2015," Zhang said.

In the summer of 2016, water experts were invited to conduct research on local water quality.

"Similar to water in other northwestern areas of China, Hotan's water tastes bitter and salty. Frequent drinking may result in yellow teeth and lithiasis," said Zhang Yongqiang, executive manager of the water treatment plant project in Hotan.

It means the quality of underground water in Hotan is far lower than of healthy water.

An investment of 97.46 million yuan was raised by the Beijing municipal government to renovate collecting tanks, purify equipment, and monitor facilities in water treatment plants in Hotan, as of March.

Zhang said the new equipment for the water treatment plants with advanced techniques could effectively treat the highly mineralized water.

"It is just like installing water purifiers in the city," Zhang said.

Hotan people can finally drink healthy water.

"I never dreamt that I could drink water of such high quality," Yarmamat said.

[ Editor: Xueying ]
 

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