This stream dried up completely in 30 years. The river water used to be up to the bottom of the bridge. Credit: Tang Kong-fai / OXFAM HONG KONG.
Rain is the main source of domestic water supply but streams have been drying up

‘I want more rain’: the human cost of climate change in China

“I want more rain.” This is the wish of a small farmer named Li Zhuang and probably the wish of 20 million other people in the very arid northwest province of Gansu.

Li and his family live in Jingyuan, in the center of Gansu. This county, upstream on the Yellow River and perched high on a sandy plateau, is officially designated as ‘poor’ by the government. Residents here are used to drought and sandstorms, and the lack of trees and rain, but they say the drought has intensified.

On the verge of a desert

Rain is the major source of domestic water supply. Over the past three decades, streams have been drying up, and a trend is emerging for those who can afford it: migration away from the drought. “I now live on the verge of a desert. Water source is an issue for us. Many of the villagers have moved somewhere else leaving their houses deserted. Yet, moving is not an option for me because building a house     elsewhere and preparing new land for farming costs a lot of money.“

Vegetables cannot survive under the severe drought environment in Gansu, China. OXFAM HONG KONG.Li‘s family farms 7 mu (1.152 acres) of land which does not bring in enough income, so they receive a monthly allowance of 30 yuan from the government. “I don’t know much about climate change,” Li says. “I guess it is mainly because evaporation is so intense here that our land is particularly dry.”

Apart from the shortening rainy season there is another important period in Gansu that is also changing: the sandstorm season. Unpredictable, they strike anytime, though most frequently between March and May

More funds are needed

Oxfam Hong Kong is working alongside the Jingyuan County Association for Science and Technology (JCAST) on a series of anti-poverty programs in Gansu, including emergency support to endure the drought, introducing drought-resistant crops, supporting vocational training with farmers, and promoting bio-gas and solar stoves in rural communities.

These eco-friendly technologies allow farmers to save money previously used to buy charcoal, and to reduce logging, which contributes to erosion, deforestation and thickening sandstorms.

Women, who are typically responsible for cooking, benefit as well, as they save time and labor; the sun reduces costs typically spent on cooking and boiling water.

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