Parts of China face severe water shortages

China 24

When it comes to water, China is facing multiple challenges, with some parts grappling with severe shortages. There are no easy solutions — as it’s often a question of how to live with what’s available.

CGTN’s Han Bin reports from Alxa, Inner Mongolia as part of our series: What is China?

Parts of China face severe water shortages

When it comes to water, China is facing multiple challenges, with some parts grappling with severe shortages. There are no easy solutions -- as it's often a question of how to live with what's available. CGTN's Han Bin reports from Alxa, Inner Mongolia.

Alxa is one of the driest places in China with intense heat, powerful winds, and sand.

Liu Jinxiang, 65, came here as an 18-year-old bride. Since then, she’s never walked beyond a patch of grassland.

“Water is greatly needed here. It’s impossible to take a bath. That’s too luxurious to even think about. There’s always heavy wind. I can feel the sand heating my face. It’s painful. Water is the most important basis for life. The grassland only exists because of water. Alxa lacks water, with little ground water and little rainfall,” Liu said.

Water is what all creatures in the desert seek. The treasure is scarce, and hidden under ground.

A single well is the only reason her family stayed in this region. Over the years, their buckets must go deeper.

Nomads move their herds in search of pasture and water. Over the decades, these have dried up in Inner Mongolia.

China’s size means extremes. In some places, water is almost nonexistent and in other places, there’s an illusion that it’s endless.

The Bangqiong Monastery sits on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. 52-year-old Jamyangnordrup takes water from the foot of the mountain every day.

For thousands of years, the water has given life to the monks and local herdsmen. But over the past years, Jamyangnordrup says he has seen the lakes disappearing, and mountain snow melting.

Tibetans worship the purity of water. They believe every river, blade of grass and even stone, has its own life, and cherish deep feelings for them.

The monk hopes the changes to the environment will slow, and people can do something to save the eco-system, that once provided so much.

What he doesn’t know is that changes on the plateau have a huge impact on other changes.

The ecosystem governs the weather system, and determines the amount of water.

“I remember when I first arrived at the age of 18, the river in front of the monastery was so big that we had to cross on horseback. The grass used to be so high that it could hide animals. There was a lot of livestock as well. Now, the water is much less,” Monk Jamyangnordrup said.

Jamyangnordrup wants more Tibetans to know about the environmental changes in Sanjiangyuan.

He has become a water ranger. He is actively engaged in conservation and campaigning. Water at Sanjiangyuan used to be endless and almost all of it was drinkable. Now, things are changing.

Jamyangnordrup is aware of the problem.

As climate change continues to heat up, he prays that China’s water tower, will survive the crisis, and the Bangqiong Monastery will continue to serve for thousands of years more.

China is not a water rich country. And water is not evenly distributed across the vast land. Add to that over-capacity and fast development. Even worse, much of the surface and ground water has been polluted.

The government is now working hard to change it. But the effects of China’s water woes will continue to be felt for a very long time.

Back in Alxa, water is a constant concern. Desertification is the biggest obstacle to development. The government is calling for planting trees to restore the grassland and provide a wind break.

But it’s often up to individuals to find the way.

Liu Jinxiang’s idea is to transform this place step by step, meter by meter. Every day, she hauls water to irrigate a special drought-resistant plant. Saxsu, which locals call “suosuo”.

Liu Jinxiang says she will continue planting suosuo as long as she’s alive. It’s her legacy for her grandchildren.

“I planted these suosuo with my own hands. Just to see them grow makes me so happy. When they grow big enough, my painful efforts will be rewarded,” Liu said.

Liu is but own woman, small in the face of nature, yet determined to carry on, to bring the color of life to Alxa.