All impoverished households in Xinjiang connected to safe tap supplies

Yimiti Esan washes his hands with a faucet in his yard. People's Daily/Li Ya'nan

A 1.75 billion-yuan ($247.5 million) centralized water supply project was completed on May 20 in Payzawat county of Kashgar prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, marking that safe and clean water is now available for all impoverished people in the autonomous region.

The project benefits 470,000 people of various ethnic groups in Kashgar, including the 15,300 impoverished from Payzawat.

“The water is sweet and potable,” said Yimiti Esan, a villager from Payzawat’s Yipakchi village.

The 80-year-old senior told People’s Daily that “puddles” were a thing that has existed in his memory ever since he can remember. River water pours in the puddles during flood season, and melt-water and rainfalls are also preserved there, making these scattered, small, shallow pools a source of drinking water for both humans and livestock. “Some are two kilometers away, while the nearest ones nearly 1 kilometer, and we had to fetch water by buckets,” he said.

However, the water was not potable, as what the puddles contained were dead and dirty water. Therefore, villagers had to wait for the impurities in the water to sediment and then filter it. The water was still always “colorful.” Sometimes it was brownish red, and sometimes green.

“It was bitter, and tasted like chewing tree leaves. Sometimes I had stomach after drinking it, and had no way but to get used to it,” Yimiti said, who was once hospitalized for over two months in 1974 due to drinking the puddle water. Even so, he still had to endure the water for 57 years.

The unhealthy and unhygienic water caused high occurrence of waterborne contagious diseases and endemics. Han Huijie, who’s in charge of drinking water safety in Payzawat county, noted that staff members from the disease control center of Xinjiang always stationed at the county for years.

In 1997, Yimiti’s house was connected to tap supplies thanks to the 7 wells drilled in Payzawat’s neighboring county Shule. Thirty more wells were drilled in Payzawat in 2005.

However, unexpectedly, the tap water turned salty after only a few years, because of earthquakes.

According to Han, Payzawat county is located in a fault zone where earthquake always happens, and the groundwater quality deteriorated every time there was a quake. The water quality of the wells can only maintain a couple of years, he added.

Water safety in Payzawat county was listed as a national key livelihood project by the Chinese government in 2014. Technicians, after making thorough investigations and taking all possible factors into consideration, resorted to water diversion. The project fetches water from the Gaizi River whose source comes from the snow on the Mount Muztagata, and the water is diverted to a plant for treatment after being disposed in a 8.09 million-cubic meter grit basin. The water, flowing through 3 counties via 1,827 kilometers of pipelines, is now available for all households in Payzawat.

The construction of the project that covers water fetching, transmission and supply, commenced in May 2019. With a total investment of nearly 1.75 billion yuan, the project includes a general plant that treats 85,000 cubic meters of water each day and 17 sub-plants. It is so far the drinking water safety project with the largest investment in China.

On May 20, the Gaizi River water arrived in the county, and the quality met national standards.

“The project aims at both poverty alleviation and livelihood,” Han said, adding that now the county has closed 140 irrigation and drinking wells to conserve the groundwater.

Xinjiang has launched over 400 water projects since 2016, solving water safety problems for all impoverished population in the autonomous region. Thanks to the efforts, over 90 percent of the 67 villages located in desert and cold highland areas in Xinjiang, which had no piped water before, are now connected to tap supplies. The morbidity of waterborne diseases dropped by 80 percent from 2015.

Now, Yimiti has three faucets in his kitchen, washroom and yard, respectively. “I’ve never dreamed that I can have such clear and sweet water in my life,” he said.

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