Water Champion

Water Champions initiate or implement water reforms in their chosen field, and are directly involved in improving the water situation in their respective countries.

Guoying Qin: One Plus Five—A Model for Rainwater Harvesting
December 2007

By Maria Christina Dueñas Knowledge Management Officer ABOUT THE CHAMPION
Ms. Guoying Qin is the Deputy Secretary-General of the China Women's Development Foundation (CWDF). Her organization aims to improve women’s quality of life, safeguard their rights and interests, and establish an environment where they can be empowered and contribute to social and economic progress. Ms. Qin has over 30 years of professional experience, including a stint in the national army. Her involvement with women’s work began in 1984, and she has held various positions in the All-China Women’s Federation since then. She also worked in Tibet for a year and a half, and the experience gave her special insights on the hardships of rural women in remote, mountainous areas. Under Ms. Qin’s leadership, the CWDF launched the Water Cellar for Mothers Project in August 2000, a program that provides a durable water cellar to poverty-stricken rural households. As head of this project, Ms. Qin has organized numerous seminars on water issues, conducted dialogues with the rural women on their specific needs, raised funds from public and corporate sources, and established partnerships with local water resources departments and scientific or research institutions to ensure the provision of sustainable and safe drinking water to the project beneficiaries. With the joint efforts of CWDF, All China Women’s Federation, and other partners, the water cellar project has built more than 100,000 cellars and more than 1,200 water collection projects, benefiting some 1.3 million people.

How vulnerable are rural households to water scarcity? Families in drought-affected mountainous areas suffer water scarcity the most. This is particularly true for western areas —especially in Gansu Province, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and north of Shaanxi Province—where annual rainfall is only about 300 millimeters (mm) or less but annual evaporation could be as high as 1,500–2,000 mm. Annual availability of usable water is only 110 cubic meters (m 3 ) per person, roughly 15% of the national average and 3% of the world average. Given the frequent outbreaks of drought, drinking water for both people and livestock is a big problem, and this affects people’s health, livelihood, and quality of life. In fact, the problem is so bad in some communities that they’ve been labeled “bachelor villages,” where women refuse to marry men because getting water involves great difficulties, and marrying means twice the burden. Prior to the water cellars program, how did rural households cope with water scarcity? Back then, it was common for people to travel tens of miles away to fetch water. People drove donkey or horse carts so they can carry more water. Long queues are also familiar sights. The frequent and severe water shortages made collecting rainwater a viable alternative, but lack of money meant that they used rudimentary water cellars whose walls were not made of concrete, causing rainwater to leak as soon as it is stored.

How did the Mother’s Water Cellars Program start? In 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals were declared and the country’s development strategy for West China had also been formulated, we investigated the lives of women living in China’s western areas. We found out that men in these areas leave town to work for a living, and the women were left behind to care for the family and the household. Among women’s many burdens were the daily, long trips to fetch water. Ms. Chen Muhua, the president of the All-China Women’s Federation, thought of improving China’s longstanding practice of using water cellars to collect rainwater. In August 2000, together with the All-China Women’s Federation, Beijing Municipal Government, and the China Central Television Station, we at the China Women’s Development Foundation launched the Water Cellar for Mothers Project to ensure that potable water is available to rural households. How does the project work? In a nutshell, we collect donations from the public and build a water cellar for each rural household in droughtaffected areas. We also established a special fund for the management and disbursement of donations. Each cellar is made of concrete and costs more than 2,000 yuan. Of this amount, 1,000 yuan comes from donations, while the government provides the other half. The local farmers contribute their labor by doing the actual construction of the cellar, which can store some 50-80m3 of rainwater, enough for a year’s worth of drinking water for a family of 3-5 members and some irrigation water.

Besides building water cellars, we also provide trainings on hygiene, women’s health care, and safe water use. After seven years of practice, our model for assistance has evolved into what we call the “One plus Five”—one water cellar plus a hygienic toilet, a methane-generating pit, a fold of poultry and livestock, one “mu” of trees or vegetables, and a tidy courtyard. With the provision of safe drinking water as the priority, we help the communities to shake off poverty by integrating health education, environmental protection, and hygiene. What is the program’s administrative structure? The Management Office of China Women’s Development Foundation, the project’s leading group, run the project. We have experts from the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research and China Water Reform Center who provide technical guidance. Administrative teams at provincial, county, and village levels implement the project at the local levels. These teams include local government officials and representatives of women’s organizations. Some peasant technicians are also trained and included in the team. Finally, we have a monitoring committee comprised of representatives from water resources departments, audit, notary offices, media, and donors. How do you choose your project beneficiaries? Our grassroots women’s federations, with the help of the local water resources departments, investigate water-scarce communities. They select beneficiaries based on project guidelines, willingness of the communities to participate, and the management abilities of the women’s federations. We also prioritize the areas most seriously affected by water scarcity. What challenges did you encounter in implementing this project? The key challenge is ensuring the smooth flow of capital. We knew that to get donations, we needed the people’s trust in our credibility and effectiveness. So we made sure that donors knew where their contributions were going, we publicly disclosed our use of funds, we organized site visits to see how the contributions were changing the lives of the beneficiaries, and we cooperated with the media on a series of activities highlighting the water cellars project. Today, we are fortunate that the project has received great attention and positive recognition from all circles of society. Our contributions have increased, and the project has built more than 100,000 cellars and more than 1,200 water collection projects, benefiting some 1.3 million people. How do you ensure that water in the cellars is potable? The water cellar is underground so the temperature is lower and water can be preserved longer. As part of our assistance, we train the villagers to boil the water before drinking. For those areas where water quality is poor, we either have experts who train the people on easy ways to disinfect water, e.g. using small amounts of chlorine, or provide small water purifying mechanisms.

How do you ensure that the project and its benefits are sustained? During project implementation, we train both the local administrative teams and the community members on proper maintenance of the cellars. Once the project is completed, the monitoring committee examines the cellars on a periodic basis. In the process, we collect files and photos of the project, and talk to the locals about their insights and experiences. To assess the impact of the project, we also provide research and evaluation funds to professional organizations. What changes have you observed in the lives of your rural beneficiaries? In a village in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, ten women’s families became demonstration households for raising poultry. They helped the whole village raise livestock, which increased the village’s per capita income by 216 yuan. Villager Yang Cuizhi planted 50-mu oil-tea camellia and raised 30 pigs and 60 pairs of pigeons. Her annual income reached 49,200 yuan. Two months ago we revisited a village in Gansu Province. To our surprise, the homes of the locals were much cleaner. Many of the courtyards even had plants and vegetables. And since the women do not spend any more of their time fetching water, they now help their children with their homework or do hand-knitted work to earn some money. What insights would you highlight about this project? It is clear from this project that water does not only solve the immediate difficulties of the people but also gives them hope for a brighter future. In order to give that hope, it is important to maximize the value of awareness. For this, we established a good relationship with the media to enhance the people’s awareness on water scarcity, its impacts and solutions. Partnering with the local governments is also crucial; they mobilized their different departments to help implement the project. Finally, it is important to note that any effort to promote the project should be aligned with the development and human resources strategy of the companies because this allows them to see the value of their contributions not just to the rural households but to their own firm as well. RELATED LINKS
Country Water Action: From Pain to Pleasure: Water Cellars Change Drought-Affected Communities' Lifestyles Videodocumentary: China’s Water Challenge

_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in December 2007: http://www.adb.org/Water/Champions/qin.asp. The Water Champions series was developed to showcase individual leadership and initiative in implementing water sector reforms and good practices in Asia and the Pacific. The champions, representing ADB’s developing member countries, are directly involved in improving the water situation in their respective countries or communities. The series is regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.