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Half Empty ep.1: Drought-resistant plants planted to reclaim the sand

Reporter: Han Bin 丨 CCTV.com

05-15-2015 21:19 BJT

Full coverage: Special Series: Half Empty

The day to day existence of some local populations is actually under threat from water shortages in some parts of China. The government says it's working towards better protection of water resources and eco-systems, but the public has to get involved. 

Now, in the first of our special series, "Half Empty",  we look at both the key problems, and the possible solutions to China's water crisis. Today, Han Bin meets an extraordinary woman trying to fight back against a tide of drought in the grasslands of Northern China. 

Alxa, in the west of Inner Mongolia. It's one of the driest places China. Intense heat, powerful winds, and sand. And, yet, human settlements.

65-year-old Liu Jinxiang came here as an 18-year-old bride. Since then, she's never walked beyond this patch of grassland. 9 years ago, Liu's husband passed away. Poverty drove her 3 children to the city, leaving Liu Jinxiang on her own... in the place that's been home for nearly half a century. It's a commitment to her husband in taking care of the grassland, and the love for the family and the homeland of Alxa.

"Water is greatly needed here. It's impossible to take a bath. That's too luxurious to even think about. There's always heavy wind. I can feel the sand heating my face. It's painful. Water is the most important basis for life. The grassland only exists because of water. Alxa lacks water, with little ground water and little rainfall," Liu said.

Water is what all creatures in the desert seek. The treasure is scarce, and hidden under ground. Beyond ensuring survival.To Liu Jinxiang, it's the power to transform the sea of death to the hope of green.

This well is the only reason her family stayed. Over the years, the bucket has had to go deeper. Nomads move their herds in search of pasture and water. Over the decades, these have dried up in Inner Mongolia.

The government is calling for planting trees to restore the grassland and provide a wind break. But it's often up to individuals to find the way.

Liu Jinxiang's idea is to transform this place step by step, meter by meter. Every day, she hauls water to irrigate a special drought-resistant plant. Saxaul, which locals call "suosuo". Liu Jinxiang has planted many of them, a small forest, with the help of others.

"The government asked herdsmen to stop raising animals to save the grassland. It advocates planting drought-resistant trees to block sandstorms and slow the speed of desertification," Liu said.

Suosuo requires very little water. Though a tree takes years to grow, its roots can hold as much as ten square meters of sand.

Just like these desert plants, coping with the harsh landscape, people in Alxa are also coping with hardships and challenges in nature. In the battle against drought, they are trying to make this place green. For them this is home, no matter how tough life gets.

Liu Jinxiang says she will continue planting suosuo as long as she's alive. It's her legacy for her grandchildren.

"I planted these suosuo with my own hands. Just to see them grow makes me so happy. When they grow big enough, my painful efforts will be rewarded," Liu said.

As the drought intensifies, Liu Jinxiang knows the road ahead is full of thorns. One woman is small in the face of nature, but she is determined to carry on, to bring the color of life to Alxa.

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