While China is a dynamic industrial engine and an emerging leader in the world economy, there are areas of western China that suffer some of the worst water shortages in the country due to poor natural and geographical conditions. According to the United Nations, China is one of the 13 countries in the world with the worst per capita water shortages; the per capita amount of water resources is 7,900 cubic meters in the world, but the amount is less than 110 cubic meters in China’s arid north-western regions.
The people here in these rural communities of western China collect rainwater by building containers under the ground, known as water cellars. Many farmers have relied on poorly constructed water pits, as they could not afford adequate materials, like concrete. These cellars soon begin to leak. Serious water shortages then cause difficulties by reducing agriculture production. Plus, the amount of gynaecological diseases and the deaths of new born babies are always high in such areas, as women are especially impacted by the lack of clean water.
These Chinese regions lack basic infrastructures. They are also competing for limited resources with rapidly industrialising regions of the country. However, since the 80’s, access to water for these rural poor has been a priority for the Chinese government. Working with government ministries, the China Women’s Development Foundation (CWDF) launched a program in 2000 called Water Cellars for Mothers to alleviate poverty. This vital project brings access to safe water through rainwater harvesting or building centralised water supply systems, specifically targeting areas in central and western China. PepsiCo is also behind this initiative; the company has been working with Water Cellars for Mothers since 2001.
In 2011, the PepsiCo Foundation awarded CWDF a $5 million grant to establish more systemic support of Water Cellars. With the support of China’s Ministry of Water Resources, the PepsiCo Foundation grant is funding safe water access projects for people in rural villages and primary schools in eight provinces and municipalities, including Yunnan, Gansu, Guangxi, Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia. PepsiCo believes that the long-term ability of a company depends on the health of the communities of which it is a part and the natural resources on which it relies, which is why it is committed here.
Water Cellars for Mothers has been very successful; by the end of 2012 nearly 130,000 water cellars and 1,500 centralised water supply stations were built in 24 provinces mainly in the west, benefiting 1.9 million people. It has changed lives. Once where people in these poor communities were drinking dirty, muddy water and suffering debilitating illnesses, they now have access to clean water through these new, efficient water cellars. Ultimately, they are healthier and have a better standard of living, which means that they have finally access to basic survival needs.
Photo Credit: PepsiCo/3BL Media
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