Fights break out over scarce drinking water

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 March, 2010, 12:00am

The PLA Air Force dispatched aircraft to trigger artificial rain to ease the worst drought in a century that has seen dozens of fights break out over drinking water in the southwest of the country.

There have been at least 41 disputes over water in Luoping county, Yunnan, one of the provinces hit hardest by the extreme dry weather since late last year, Changsha-based Xiaoxiang Morning Herald said, quoting an unnamed county official yesterday.

Violent quarrels broke out between more than 50 households in Yina village after a resident, surnamed Zhao, stole from their communal water tank after he ran out of drinking water on February 27, the report said.

Wang Fude , director of the village, yesterday confirmed that tempers had flared.

'The confrontation was initially triggered by the collection of water between fellow villagers Zhao Jiagao and Zhao Mansun , both in their 40s.

'The conflict was settled after mediation by local government,' Wang said. 'I'm one of the officials who weighed in.'

But Wang was quick to point out that the villagers had endured an unprecedented dry spell.

'Take me, for example, I've sustained a loss of up to 1,600 yuan [HK$1,820] because of crop failure. I lost my rape seed flowers as a result of poor irrigation.'

When asked about the first rainfall in months, Wang said he had heard and seen two or three planes flying overhead at about 9.30pm on Saturday night.

'Roughly two hours later, it started showering for about 10 or so minutes. But the rainfall was too light and it didn't last long enough.'

Wang's words were echoed by Liu Jiacong , a primary school teacher in the same village.

'The amount of rain that fell was far from enough to alleviate the drought,' Liu said. 'Neither the trees nor the road was still moist by the morning.

'I heard several loud noises last night and guessed it was the sound of cloud seeding.'

Fourteen military aircraft were dispatched to induce rainfall in an area of more than 200,000 square kilometres across drought-hit regions including Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan and Chongqing, the China News Service said. The operation was carried out by the Chengdu Military Region Air Force, the report said.

Drizzle, moderate rain and downpours induced by cloud seeding had helped ease the situation in 11 cities, prefectures and counties - including Kunming , Chuxiong and Xishuangbanna - between 8am Saturday and 8am yesterday, Xinhua reported, citing Yunnan meteorological bureau chief weather forecaster Ma Lianxiang .

The Ministry of Land and Resources said on Saturday it would send more than 1,100 engineers and workers from across the country to dig over 1,600 wells in the southwest.

The wells would be used to provide 200,000 cubic metres of drinking water daily to two million residents and one million head of livestock, the ministry said.

All workers involved would be in place by April 1 and the first team had already left on Saturday, the ministry said.

The most severe drought in the southwest for decades has left 18 million residents and 11.7 million head of livestock in the region short of drinking water and caused direct economic losses of 23.7 billion yuan, data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs showed.