Water becomes precious birthday gift as worst drought continues

15:07, March 26, 2010      

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When family gathered to celebrate his mother's 50th birthday party last week, Li Shaozhong insisted his brother-in-law sit on the seat after he had presented a special gift: 100 liters of water.

"No other gift or greeting can compare to this at this time," Li said, pointing to the life-saving liquid delivered by his brother-in-law with an oxcart.

Water now is definitely the most valuable gift to those thirsty villagers at Shuitang, a small settlement located between mountains 1,800 meters above sea level in Yanshan County, southwest China's Yunnan Province.

Rivers have disappeared and wells dried up, land is cracked, and crops and vegetables are withered. Clean drinking water has been cut off in the drought-hit Shuitang village, whose name means "pond" in Chinese. Last week Li, the village head, walked hours to the nearest town to notify the authorities for help.

After hearing Li's emergency plea, the township sent six water transport trucks to Shuitang, where about one sixth of its 300 villagers, comprised of Miao or Zhuang ethnic groups, have left because of the terrible situation.

Hours before the water-transport trucks arrived, anxious and thirsty villagers carrying plastic pails formed a long line five kilometers away from their homes.

Each family was rationed with the amount of water that could only meet the minimal requirement for drinking and cooking for one week.

"Bath?" Peng Wenxian, a 60-year-old villager said, and then shook her head bashfully. "It has been a very long time since we last showered."

"But without the timely small drops carried by water tankers from the town 40 kilometers away, we would have died of thirst," Peng said while comforting three grandsons with grim faces and messy hair who hide scared of strangers, behind her back.

She said every single drop of water was used carefully. Villagers only wash their faces and their clothes once a week.

Her neighbor Li Shaozhong, who helped bring the drinking water to the village by informing the township government, nodded in consent.

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