SHIJIAZHUANG: For many people, home is always sweet home. But for Zhang Shulan, home used to be a stinky place that she just wanted to run away from.
Zhang is a resident of Yezhuang Village in the city of Handan, north China’s Hebei Province. Her house was in the lower end of the village, and polluted water with a strong foul odor ran right in front of her house.
“The village’s communal dry toilet was less than 100 meters away from my house, and there was also a garbage dump in the vicinity,” she said.
Toilets in the Chinese countryside have earned a nasty reputation, with some little more than ramshackle shelters surrounded by bunches of cornstalk and others just open pits next to pigsties.
“I felt horrible whenever I opened my door,” she said. “The smell was simply disgusting!”
To shelter the family from the “daily attacks of odor,” Zhang’s family took a variety of measures.
“We basically rebuilt the houses,” Zhang said. “We even added an extra tile of colored steel to the rooftop for cover.”
But the measures went nowhere.
“It was still really smelly,” she said. “We could not take it anymore.” Driven away by the choking environment, the family of seven used all their earnings and applied for loans to buy a house in the city, shying away from the farming life they once knew.
“We crammed into a house with just three rooms and a hall,” she said. “We just felt terrible, because we built five spacious houses in the village and an attic, but we were forced away by the stinky water.”
Zhang’s house is in a mining area in Handan. The area has 157 villages, and each year, the villages discharge close to three million tonnes of water polluted by domestic sewage. Before 2019, less than 10 percent of the area’s wastewater was collected for treatment. Local water treatment facilities only collected wastewater from more than 10 villages and downtown districts, and the rest just flowed into streets and alleyways before evaporating or went into rovers and pools. Pollution was heavy.
“We started treating the polluted water in the mining area in 2019,” said local official Zhang Qingqiang.
Authorities started to include the villages into a unified network of pollution treatment. In addition to water-treating plants, they also resorted to “biological treatment pools,” which purify the water before releasing it for irrigation in fields and forests.
So far, all villages in the mining area have been covered by the network, and almost all rural families there have switched to flush toilets instead of dry toilets.
This also means that the environment in Zhang’s village is completely changed.
“In late 2019, the village official called and told me that the village was connecting to a wastewater treatment network,” Zhang said. “He asked if I would like to install flush toilets in my houses.”
Zhang returned to the village and found that the stinky water around her house was already gone. Replacing the smelly water were flowers, grass, a new pavilion and a winding corridor.
“It looked like a picture,” she said. “I thought maybe it was time to get back.”
Zhang returned the call to the official and asked how to get connected to the network.
“All of my family will come back,” she said.
The coronavirus outbreak disrupted the construction of the water-treating facilities for a while, but as the epidemic ebbed, workers are resuming work again.
“People used to throw wastewater outside their houses, and stinky water flowed on the streets,” said Zhang Qingqiang. “But now it is an entirely different picture, and farmers’ level of happiness has greatly improved.”