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June 10, 2011

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Some wither and others flourish in drought

THE long drought that hit Zhoushan City was good news for some small businesses and bad news for others.

Ying Guozhi, who sells plastic barrels, tubs, jerry cans and other containers, recalls the jubilation and land-office business on May 28, the day after the city government announced tap water rationing.

Her store in Nanhai Wholesale Market in Shenjiamen was thronged with customers buying containers to collect water.

On May 28 and 29 she earned more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,542) by selling 2,000 containers, almost a month's earnings in ordinary times.

"More than 50 people queued in front of my store. People chose barrels by themselves. I collected money and my husband shuttled between store and warehouse to bring more barrels," Ying recalls.

"I have done the business in the city for more than 20 years and it was the first time I ever felt I would be a millionaire," says 45-year-old Ying.

They could barely sell a big container on normal days, but they sold 1,000 each day on average during the water shortage. Rationing lasted from June 1 to 6.

After rationing was announced, the price of a 160-milliliter barrel increased to 80 yuan from 40 yuan.

Ying says most families bought two barrels.

Tao Hanxiang, another shop owner selling barrels in the market, is busy counting money while talking to a reporter.

Tao's stall is at the entrance to the market, an enviable spot.

When all the barrels were sold out, people bought plastic rubbish bins and other containers.

However, other businesses withered, like the plant and garden store run by Fu Shanyui who lost nearly 50,000 yuan because many plants and trees he rented to companies died for lack of water.

"It was the biggest loss since we opened the company 10 years ago, even worse than in 2005 when typhoon Matsa destroyed many plants," says Fu, whose business is right next to the market.

Fu and his wife opened the company to rent flowers and trees to companies for decoration. They watered plants every day and had to provide replacements to companies if plants died. Because of water rationing, staff couldn't water after 8am, so most of the plants died, according to Fu.

Around midnight on Saturday she immediately woke up when she heard the rumble of thunder and the long-awaited rainfall.

She woke her husband up and together, in joy and gratitude, they watched the rain. They were too happy to sleep.

"We hoped the drought would end soon, otherwise we would go bankrupt," Liu says.

Restaurants also had trouble.

"Customers kept complaining our dishes tasted weird recently and we found it was because of the tap water," says a restaurant owner surnamed Yu, who has been in business for 20 years in Xiazhi County, which is famous for its squid.

Because of the water shortage, most of the tap water came from a local sea water desalinization plant - the water was salty.

The Yujia Fast Food Restaurant, just 20 meters square, is famous among locals for authentic native dishes, such as the squid fried with eggs and salted yellow croaker fish.

"All the customers from both the county and elsewhere would praise our dishes ," says 60-year-old Yu, who usually makes a lot of money.

Now the business has suffered and the number of customers dropped by half, not only because of the taste but also because people did not believe the vegetables had been washed thoroughly because the water shortage.

Vegetable farmers were severely affected. Yu Sanhe, who grows vegetables and sells them on the street, says tomatoes and leafy vegetables would wither and die in 20 days without rain.

"I can only watch them die," says 50-year-old Yu. He used to get up early to water the vegetables but the water would soon evaporate in the hot midday sun. No more water was available.

Yu says people now like vegetables that are easy to wash and don't need much water, such as tomatoes and cucumbers.

Leafy green vegetables and cabbages were hard to sell.

Li Jiaxing, a barber from Anhui Province, has two barrels to collect tap water and another three to collect rainwater. The water was used to shampoo and rinse.

"The water limit was fine for me because I can ask customers, mostly locals, to come for a shampoo between 5am and 8pm when the water supply is normal," the barber says.


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