Thirsty land sucked dry to irrigate Olympics

It has not rained in Tang County since August and Liu Haishui is not expecting much from his peach crop this year.

Water was always scarce in this arid northern Chinese township several hundred kilometres from Beijing, but competition for it is more intense than ever as his land adjoins a new canal, which is going to pump 300 million cubic metres of water to Beijing to make sure that everything looks lush and green for August's Olympic Games.

The ground is cracked and dusty, but not infertile. In good years, when it rains three or four times, the trees can yield 500 peaches. This year, the harvest is looking more like 300. Water is always a problem in Hebei, and though the local reservoir provides most of his needs, reserves are tight.

"It's much drier than it used to be, hard to make a living. If it rains a couple of times a year, it's OK, but everything is getting drier around here," said Mr Liu, whose name, Haishui, translates as "lake water".

His words are drowned out by a Dongfeng truck carrying rocks and dirt from an earthworks project at the edge of his farm, where workers toil all hours to complete the canal project.

Alarmed by the looming water crisis in the Olympics year, the government has spent 17.4bn yuan (£1.2bn) on the 190-mile canal. When completed, it will be crossed by 118 bridges and link Shijiazhuang in Hebei to the capital, diverting up to 500 million cubic metres of water from four Hebei reservoirs next year.

This plan to irrigate the capital's Olympic ambitions is a part of the south-to-north water transfer project, which will tap the Yangtze river and tributaries to water the arid north by 2010. Water demand is expected to be 2.75 million cubic metres every day during the Games, 30 per cent above normal.

The project bosses say the canal will be finished by next month, and there is no reason to doubt them. But the problem for the farmers is that there is precious little water in Hebei to share. Liu comes from nearby Xianbei village and he runs a shop as a side business, as the farming is too tough, he says. Profits on the farm are around 3,000 yuan a year.

The farmers who lost their land were compensated to the tune of 200 yuan a mature tree, and they received 28,000 yuan per sixth of an acre. It should have been 60,000 yuan, but Liu is not complaining and is happy for the water to go to the games. "The Olympics will be great. I'm going. If I don't get tickets, I'll go to Beijing anyway," he said.

For many years, Hebei has shared its water with the capital, which has a population of 17 million people, and is facing a major water crisis.

Beijing has been affected by drought for 10 years – reservoirs have been badly depleted, water tables have sunk to unprecedentedly low levels, and the capital faces an annual shortfall of a billion cubic metres of water by 2010. Just 10 years ago, you could dig 10 metres to find water; now it is nearly 20 metres.

The government has ordered farmers to stop growing crops and paid them to comply. The reservoirs still cover basic needs but water is a constant worry. Open mines have made much of the water unusable and a lot of the wells and underground rivers have gone as the water table gets ever lower, says one farmer who gives only his surname, Chen.

"There used to be lots of rivers around here, small ones that we could use. But they've all dried up now," he said, wearing the blue jacket and Mao Zedong cap that used to be ubiquitous in China but is now worn mostly by farmers and the rural poor. "Last year wasn't too bad, but it's getting less and less every year," he added.

Chen is examining his land, getting ready to plant corn in April, and his young grandson has come along to help him and his wife. The chances of this little boy staying in this town when he grows up are remote. And even if he does find work around here, there is every chance there will be little water left for him to quench his thirst.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?