A group of farmers from Wenzhou in Zhejiang province has won a landmark court case against the Yongjia county Government, which has been found guilty of failing to act to solve a five-year water-supply dispute. The farmers accused the county Government of failing to take action to protect their rights. The Zhejiang Higher People's Court ordered county officials to take action within the next two months to mediate in the dispute between Zhong and Kaiyang villages over a dam that left the farmers of Zhong unable to irrigate their crops. The clash highlighted growing tension over scarce water resources. Court officials said that in 1996, peasants in Kaiyang village dammed the upper reaches of the river that flowed through Zhong and diverted all the water for its own use. The move deprived Zhong farmers of their major water supply and led to a series of clashes, sometimes violent, between the two villages. Zhong farmers repeatedly petitioned the county Government, urging it to resolve the issue. In November 1998, Zhong villagers turned to county and city courts for help. However, they were told the issue should be tackled by administrative, not judicial, bodies. Angered by the fact that the county Government ignored their pleas and let the dispute drag on, 110 farmers from Zhong village filed a lawsuit at the Wenzhou Intermediate People's Court in August last year against the county Government. The Intermediate court ruled that the county Government had the responsibility to tackle the issue, but the county Government refused to accept the verdict and appealed to the Zhejiang Higher People's Court. The court ruled this week in favour of the Zhong villagers and ordered county officials to take immediate action to settle the dispute, Xinhua said. But the People's Daily said county officials had ignored a court order that they remove the dam. The court has warned the officials could face punishment if they continue to fail to comply with the court order. The case highlights the increasing violent clashes that are happening because of the country's water shortage crisis. The problem has been aggravated by inefficient irrigation, wasteful industry and leaky distribution systems. Xinhua earlier this month said that almost two-thirds of China's cities were suffering from water shortages and 100 of them had serious shortages. China is beginning to gradually raise water prices to discourage industrial complexes and households from squandering drinking water. The price rises will cover water supplies in urban areas and to industrial plants, according to a circular issued by the State Development Planning Commission in October.