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Water-starved Beijing residents dig wells outside their homes

By Dayu Zhang and Zoe Li, CNN
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 0554 GMT (1354 HKT)
"Who would dig up wells if there's enough water? There's just no water." Beijing residents take matters into their own hands and find groundwater near their homes. "Who would dig up wells if there's enough water? There's just no water." Beijing residents take matters into their own hands and find groundwater near their homes.
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No water? Dig wells
No water? Dig wells
No water? Dig wells
No water? Dig wells
No water? Dig wells
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Residents in Beijing sick of water shortages, start digging wells
  • Water authorities: Fixing the shortages is complicated
  • Freshwater supply increasingly a problem in China

Beijing (CNN) -- At first glance, it seems like a lot of roadside construction is taking place in this residential neighborhood west of Beijing's Tsinghua University.

But a closer look reveals out-of-place pipes, mysterious pools of water and long hoses that run along the walls of nearby homes.

The "construction workers" aren't paid laborers either -- they're local residents who have simply walked out of their homes and started hacking into the road.

Why?

Pollution an economic concern in China

For water. They lift tiles off the pavements and dig until they hit ground water.

"Who would dig up wells if there's enough water? There's just no water," said one resident who would only give his surname, Yin. His family had been suffering from water shortages on and off for months until they decided to take matters into their own hands.

Growing demand

The Shuimo Community in Haidian district has grown rapidly and authorities have been unable to cope with the growing demand for water.

"We started receiving complaints from residents about water shortages since the end of July," said Liu Zhongmin, head of the Water Resources Office in the Department of Water Affairs of Haidian District. "We're aware of local residents digging wells to get water. These are illegal constructions and should be demolished."

But any plans to fix the water supply problem have been delayed. "We don't plan to do anything at this point as it'll spark tensions between us and residents," said Liu.

He explained that any work on the pipelines in the neighborhood would not be straightforward.

The community has grown from 1,000 residents to more than 8,000 in recent years, and new residents have occupied roads where pipelines are buried under their houses, according to Liu.

For the near future, residents see only one way out of the situation.

"Everybody knows we're not allowed to dig wells here but what else can we do? Who can solve the problem?" asks Yin. He adds that a well costs as much as RMB 40,000 (about $6,500) to complete.

Freshwater supplies in China have been increasingly strained in recent years. A growing population, industrial development and widespread pollution pushes the lack of freshwater to crisis levels, according to China Water Risk.

CNN's Linda Yin contributed to this report

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