Saturday, 14 August 2010

The real cost ... 1100+ lives?

There has been a dearth of media reports of Chinese mining disasters in the last few days. This is not, I suspect, because they have stopped happening.

The last mining disaster I'm aware of from media reports is an event in Jilin province, where 18 miners were trapped when the mine they were working in flooded (1). That was four days ago, but there has been no report of how this ended, whether the miners were rescued, or died, or are still trapped. The landslide seems to be eating up everyone's attention.

Flooding, and landslides, would appear to be natural calamities that aren't influenced by something as trivial as the lax safety standards in Chinese mines. Well, maybe, but if we look at the (slightly) bigger picture, a depressingly familiar theme can be discerned:
While China's premier Wen Jiabao posed for cameras near rescuers trying to find the more than 600 still missing, local media quoted a growing chorus of experts who warned that the landslide had been "an accident waiting to happen".

A 2006 report by Lanzhou University warned of the dangers presented by the destruction of the forests around Zhouqu for mining and agriculture, causing soil erosion and destabilising hillsides.

"The hills have become highly unstable and easily subject to natural disaster of landslides and mudslides," the report said. "The situation is the result of deforestation, exploitative mining activities, construction of hydroelectric power plants and other development activities."

Zhouqu, once known as the "Shangri La" of Gansu Province, has suffered more than ten major landslides since 1823, but experts said the risk had been increased hugely by the felling of more than 126,000 hectares of forest between 1952 and 1990.

In more recent years, the construction of a highway and more than 40 hydroelectric power dams in the sharp-sided valleys has further destabilised the geology, according to Fan Xiao, a leading Chinese geologist based in Sichuan. (2)
There would, undoudtedly, have been floods in any case. But the impact of these floods, it would seem, would have been much reduced if it weren't for the ferocious drive for growth, fueled by the west's insatiable desire for cheap consumer goods, with out too many questions being asked about just how they can be made so cheaply.
1 - "18 miners trapped in flooded shaft in China," unattributed article. Published by AFP, 10th of August, 2010. Reproduced by Google. (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5j6exVPTVYvoFql-3qx0UKwATUJBA)
2 - "China landslide death toll up tops 1,100," by peter Foster. Published in the Telegraph, 11th of August, 2010. (
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/7939289/China-landslide-death-toll-up-tops-1100.html)

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