Economic benefits flow from taps
Community-run tap water systems in China’s remote Guizhou province have enabled families to develop new income-generating activities and boost a faltering economy.
The advances arose from an IDRC-sponsored project in the late 1990s promoting “community-based natural resource management.” Villagers who assembled to discuss resource issues identified water as their chief concern. Then they set about improving the situation.
“The water scarcity in Guizhou is very severe,” says project leader Sun Qiu, director of the Integrated Rural Development Centre in the provincial capital, Guiyang. “The communities always had some conflict over access to water.”
Villagers were unhappy about the time that women and children spent hauling water home from a spring several kilometres away. “That’s a lot of effort and it’s especially tough in the winter,” comments former IDRC program officer Ronnie Vernooy.
With technical and material support from IDRC, community members planned, built, and managed a system that pumps mountain water into a storage tank and then pipes it to individual homes. Meters installed in the houses discourage overuse. A single, successful village pilot project was repeated throughout the county.
Sun Qiu believes the end result is a better quality of life.
“People don’t worry about water shortages, and most families have bought washing machines,” she says. “Women have more time for activities like mushroom cultivation, fruit tree-growing, and pig-raising. All these things have increased their incomes.”
The social and economic improvements flowing from the tap water show the wisdom of communities managing their natural resources based on local knowhow and efforts — a concept that’s gaining ground in China.
In this way, the tap water system has provided a powerful example for other areas. “After 11 years,” Sun Qiu says, “the community still manages the system very well.”