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From "Karez Well" to "Water Cellar for Mothers"
--How did Chinese people in drought region address water shortage?
2016-06-16 03:10
  By H.E.. Dr. LU Youqing

Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to the United Republic of Tanzania


    Looking back on the history of biological evolution and human civilization, drought not only claimed lives of various creatures but also impeded the development of human civilization. Mycenae, one of the cultural centers of Ancient Greece, which had been prosperous for centuries finally became ruins due to the severe drought and the following famine 1200 B.C. The Mycenaean civilization vanished along with the city as well. In modern times, damage caused by drought is more shocking. According to statistics, five of the World Top Ten Major Natural Disasters happened in the 20th century are droughts, others are three earthquakes, one typhoon and one tsunami. The severe drought in Africa (1968-1973) claimed 2 million lives, hit 25 million people in 36 countries and forced over 10 million victims to flee home.

    China is also frequently hit by drought and three out of the world five major droughts in the 20th century happened in China. Rainfall in the western and northern China is little and uneven but the evaporation rate is very high. With the annual rainfall only 300 mm and the evaporation capacity as high as 2000 mm, the available water resource per capita in some drought regions is only 110 m3 which equals to 3.7% of the world average. To cope with the challenge from the nature and build a nice homeland, generations of Chinese people have engaged in the tough war against drought. Following the Chinese tradition, "when struck by disaster, help comes from all around", the Chinese people followed the natural law, worked hard, stood self-reliant, pooled their wisdom and created a lot of amazing wonders in fighting drought, represented by the ancient "Karez Well" and modern "Water Cellar for Mothers" Project.

    Karez Well dates back to the Han dynasty of China (206 B.C.-220A.D.) which was among the three major projects in ancient China, together with the Great Wall and the Grand Canal. It is a unique way to utilize groundwater source in the drought area according to the local climatic and hydrologic conditions. Karez Wells are mainly found in the Turpan and Hami district of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China, the northwestern region nicknamed "Stove". The region is dry and nearly rainless with annual average precipitation of 16 mm and evaporation capacity as high as 3000 mm. In this region, water is as precious as cooking oil. The local people have smartly made use of the geographic advantage of the basin and channeled the underground water to the surface through a series of complicated engineering work including vertically dug well, qanat, open channel and dam to form a unique underground irrigation system which is immune to seasonal alteration, wind and sandstorm with little evaporation and stable flow of water. In this way, water shortage in the region was effectively alleviated. After generations of hard work, today, there are more than 1200 Karez Wells with the total length over 5000 km and irrigation capacity covering 70 % of the cultivated land in Turpan of Xinjiang Region. Being moisturized by the clear water from Karez Wells, the Gobi desert of Turpan has become the oasis covered by fertile farm land and is famous for agricultural products including grape, melon, grain, cotton and edible oil. The Karez Well has become the Life-giving Stream for local people. Everyone who visited Karez Well all marveled at the sophistication and difficulty of the engineering work. It's a monument of the wisdom and diligence of the working people of China.    

    The public welfare project, Water Cellar for Mothers, is the pioneering undertaking of the contemporary Chinese people to pool love, expand help and create hope. The Project aims at addressing the severe water shortage in some regions of northwestern China where villagers and livestock have to depend on the too limited rainfall collected in the man-made water cellar. It was jointly initiated by All China Woman's Federation, Beijing Municipal People's Government and the Central Television of China in December 2000 and was implemented by the Woman Development Fund of China. The Project is open to the whole society for donation which will be used to build cement water cellar for families in the drought areas of northwestern China to efficiently collect rainwater for daily life. Gradually, the Project has been enriched in content with additional functions including bio-gas, farming, breeding, health care and courtyard landscaping etc. The focus of the Project has been shifted from living water shortage alleviation to the supply of water for industrial use, and the sustainable utilization of water resource.

    By the end of 2014, the Project has input about 850 million RMB (about 140 million USD) and built 139,000 water cellars and 1,670 sets of small scale water supply facility. It directly benefited 2.5 million residents in the districts and cities of 25 regions mainly in northwestern China. By the end of 2011, the Sub-project of the Water Cellar for Mothers, Safe Water in Campus Project, was initiated and 47.4 million RMB (about 8 million USD) was invested to build and rehabilitate the safe water and sanitation facilities, install water purifying equipment and carry out education on health which has directly benefited more than 260,000 students and teachers. The report of Asian Development Bank entitled National Water Action------China has a special chapter about Water Cellar for Mothers' and commended the project as the remarkable creation securing safe water for people in the drought area. Reports of international organizations including World Bank and the United Nations also reaffirmed the significant role that Water Cellar for Mothers is playing in alleviating life difficulties of people in the drought regions.

    Although the average annual rainfall of Tanzania in the past 10 years is as high as 1071 mm and even the driest region, Dodoma, could get 570 mm of annual rainfall on average, yet due to the shortage of water conservancy facilities, Tanzania is still faced with severe water shortage which acted as bottleneck for social and economic development and the improvement of people's livelihood. The Karez Well and Water Cellar for Mothers of China are good references. It's expected that with the joint efforts of China and Tanzania, suitable water conservancy and irrigation system could be established in Tanzania to benefit the local people.   


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