Water Shortages Make Migrant Life Tougher

    The dark clouds were getting thicker, and the wind blew strongly. The dusky sky was like the face of a blue man. Finally, the thunder roared. It began pouring. Linghui Jiang quickly put a bucket and a big washbowl in front of her shabby wooden shed.

    About one hour later, the rain stopped. Not far away from Jiang’s house, the road along Hunan Village was flooded. Jiang, 28, took out the laundry and began to do her washing with the rainwater she just saved. Ever since her arrival from Hunan Province about a month ago, she has been suffering from water shortage.

    “The water pipes were broken. The boss (the way the workers call the local owner of the fields they rent) thought it would cost him too much to fix it,” said Jiang.

    Wang Xiushi, a pig farmer in the village voiced her own thoughts, “As immigrant workers from other provinces, we don’t have many choices and can’t complain too much. Our lives are meant to be difficult.”

    Behind the Shantou Funeral Home along Daxue Road, live about 200 immigrant workers and their families. At first several migrant workers from Hunan rented the field from the local owners and built their wooden sheds. As time passed, more and more workers came to rent the fields and build houses. Soon the place became known as Hunan Village in reference to the province where the majority of the workers come from.

    Jiang came here with her parents and two children of nine months and two years. Jiang sends the elder one to a kindergarten near the village. Jiang’s father is a garbage and scrap collector and goes out everyday. Her mother works in the hospital downtown as a cleaner. Jiang stays at home to take care of the children.

    Jiang rented the simple wooden shed built by her predecessor from the local owner for 100 RMB for six months. It is an unofficial deal and there is no contract saying that the landlord must guarantee water supply. Many of the other villagers have working water but Jiang’s landlord, she said, thought fixing the problem was too much trouble.

    “I had no other choice. I need a place to settle down. If I did not rent this house, others would. It’s hard to find one,” she said.

    Jiang’s is not the only one family that has no running water. Her neighbor Qin Dongyu suffers the problem much longer than Jiang.

    “We use a little more than half a bucket of water to bath. Sometimes, two people have to share a bucket of water,” Qin said,also from Hunan. She came here four years ago. Now she makes her life on picking scraps and selling them to the recycling station. Her running water stopped one year ago and she was required to pay about 200 RMB for her landlord to solve the problem. Qin refused to pay. “I have been used to the hardship,” the 67-year-old woman said.

    Usually they need to go out for water every two days. They get water in one of two main ways. They can go to their neighbors who have running water and get some for free. They also can take a few empty plastic containers with a capacity range from 30 liters to 70 liters with them when they go out to pick, sort and then sell the garbage or recycled materials. On their way back, they get water at the recycling station for free and take the water home with bicycles. The way back from the recycle station generally takes them half an hour. If someone else’s water pipes are broken, they can take advantage of it to get water. After collecting water they store the water in vats and wash bowls and cover them. In Jiang’s house, three small wash bowls and one big one (about 60 liters), a ceramic vat and three plastic buckets (all about 80 liters) are used to store water.

    “You can’t complain that it’s the boss’s fault,” Jiang said. “He doesn’t have the responsibility to ensure our water demand. His renting the place to us for so cheap is good enough.”

    She has to decrease the amount and cherish every drop of water. When washing clothes, she won’t refresh the water until she finishes washing all the clothes. Because Jiang’s mother works in a hospital downtown, sometimes she takes their laundry to the hospital and washes them there.

    The families who have running water are struggling to pay extra fee. According to the website of the Shantou running Water Company, the water price given by the government is 1.45 RMB per cube (1000 liters), whereas, villagers must pay for their bosses from about 2.5 RMB per cubic meter to 3 RMB per cubic meter (depending on the landowners). A family with four people needs to pay about 60 RMB every month. And if the water is charged according to the official price, a family can at least save 24 RMB per month, a small fortune to the migrant workers.

    Xiaojia Wang is one of those who have running water supply. Because the water price is not cheap, she and her family use water frugally. “Except for the water we use to bathe and wash dishes and clothes, we collect almost all the other water we have used for daily life and use it to feed pigs.”

    In the village, some workers make their lives on feeding pig. Xiushi Wang is one of them. He feeds about 30 pigs. He has just sold 16 pigs which he has fed for nine months to a local abattoir and earned 4,000 RMB. On average, he makes about 450 RMB per month. Cooking feedstuff for pigs requires a lot of water. Instead of using running water, he dug a well, like other pig farmers, to use underground water. Because the Hunan Village is located near a big fish pool, they have enough water to feed pigs.

    Though the villagers don’t expect too much that the water problem will be solved quickly, they still have faith. “The government is burying the big fish pool besides our village. Buildings will be built later. As the development of it, the water problem may be solved,” said Qin Dongyu.

    However, another more serious problem may arise-the families may be dislocated to give room to new developments. Jiang has experienced that. Because of the development of the place she used to live, her house is on the list of the rebuilding. “We can do nothing about it. If the government asks us to leave, we surely have to find other places.”

    Chen Chengwu