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October 2003
The International Rainwater Harvesting Training Course, China, 2003

The International Training Course on Rainwater Harvesting and Utilization was held in Lanzhou, Capital of the Gansu Province in China from Sept. 8th to Oct. 22nd 2003. The Course was sponsored by the China Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Water Resources and the Gansu Provincial Government and endorsed by UNESCO. There were in total 40 participants from 19 countries in Africa and Asia attending the Course, including Algeria, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Laos, Lesotho, Mauritania, Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uganda, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The 45-day course included 20-day lecturing and 10-day field trips to the RWH projects in Gansu Province as well as 4-day evaluation of the Course. The Chinese Government paid high attention to the Course. The Vice Governor of the Gansu Province attended the opening ceremony of the Course. General Director of the Provincial Bureau for Water Resources chaired the Steering Committee. A brief summary of the course, which turned to be very successful and was well received by the participants, is given below.

Activities in the Course

The course lectures covered a wide range of issues related to rainwater harvesting (RWH). These included planning and design procedures, principles and methodology of deficit and supplemental irrigation using RWH systems, water quality management, integrating RWH techniques with soil and water conservation, construction and operation and maintenance of RWH systems, economic evaluation, RWH in urban areas, community management and gender issue, etc. Lectures were given by both Chinese and international experts.

Field trips

The Course included a total of10-days of organized field trips to RWH demonstration projects in Gansu Province. Through these visits participants were introduced to the local RWH technologies and the different types of rainwater catchments and storage tanks used in Gansu. The catchments included both the less permeable surfaces of existing structures such as tiled roofs, courtyards, paved highways and country roads, etc. and the artificial cement-lined hilltop catchments. Different types of storage were also shown to the participants including excavated water cellars (Shuijiao), water cave (Shuiyao) and surface tanks. A demonstration RWH model consisting of five types of catchment and structural section of four different kinds of water cellars presented in cross-section was also visited. This impressive demonstration site also has a sprinkler system to simulate rainfall which has been built to provide participants a visual impression of rainfall-runoff process and different rainwater collection efficiency on different catchment types.

The participants also had a one-day practical session in a farmer’s courtyard during which they constructed a water cellar. They went through the whole construction process from excavation, making concrete and plastering with cement mortar.

During the field trip, participants visited the RWH projects used for domestic supply, irrigation and for the environment conservation. They visited the RWH projects for domestic use in a pilot village where they showed much interest in the solar cookers that is popular for boiling drinking water. They also visited the demo village for supplemental irrigation with RWH system, and the greenhouse using drip irrigation and learned the role of RWH in increasing farmer’s income. The trip also included visit to projects of terracing, contour planting and small watershed management where RWH has played critical role. The participants were also introduced to the hand pump, machine with integrated function of digging ditch, sowing, water and fertilizer application, plastic sheeting and covering soil and a manufacturing workshop for solar cookers.

Achievements of the Course

All the participants were exposed to a range of highly successful rural RWH projects in China and particularly in Gansu. These gave the participants a deep impression of the potential of RWH for the integrated rural development in a water short area. The main experiences from the Gansu RWH projects which the participants have learned from are the following:

  • RWH can provide a cheap, clean and reliable source of domestic water in a cost-effective way and that the roof-courtyard catchment system has significantly improved the living condition of the rural population. 
  • That with the support of both government and the community it is possible to mainstream RWH as the standard water supply technology and a source for supplementary irrigation throughout a whole region. The construction of around 2.5 million large water cellars in Gansu Province in just a little over 10 years clearly demonstrates. 
  • That supplementary irrigation with the RWH system at critical periods in the growing season can significantly enhance agricultural production and food security. The use of supplementary irrigation based on RWH systems could provide a way to raise the production to the conventional dry farming practices to a new level. 
  • RWH is an effective way to assist communities with poverty alleviation and income generation. Using RWH systems, farmers in dry mountainous areas can change their agricultural practices and adopt more advanced and effective agricultural techniques such as the use of low cost greenhouses, both to protect crops from temperature extremes and to harvest rainwater thereby increasing their income. 
  • RWH can be beneficial to ecological systems and assist environmental conservation through encouraging the re-establishment of tree seedlings on sloping land and encouraging reafforestation.

The participants also gained a great deal of practical knowledge on RWH from the lectures, practical sessions and field trips. According to the self evaluation presented by the participants the following techniques could be introduced to their countries:

  • To make use of less permeable surfaces of existing structures as catchment to enhance rainwater collection efficiency. These include tiled roof, courtyard, paved highway, country road, threshing yard. In some countries, the artificially built concrete lined surfaces on a hilltop may also be introduced. 
  • The underground tanks are widely adopted in the northern China. It has the advantages of keeping better water quality, reducing evaporation and making use of self-stability of subsoil to reduce cost. The structure design and construction method can also be introduced adapting to the local condition. 
  • Technique on the simple greenhouse with drip system, solar heater (only cost $20), hand pump (cost $15-30) for domestic use and for drip lines, and the sowing machine with integrated functions of digging ditch, water and fertilizer application, plastic sheeting, covering soil are very applicable in the RWH system. Many participants wanted to purchase or to introduce the techniques.

The Course provided the participants and lecturers a good opportunity to exchange views and experiences on RWH, which will be very beneficial for promoting RWH in their home countries. The organizers of the Course also learned a lot about RWH experiences from participants’ countries. Many participants expressed their willing to continue information exchange regarding RWH strategies and techniques in the future. The course provided a good starting point for facilitating the establishment of a global RWH network.

Rainwater Harvesting Project in the south of China RWH for Agriculture in the north of China Rainwater Storage Cellar for Agricultural Irrigation

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