China’s Coal Rush Leaves Three Million Living on the Edge

The Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore reports from Shanxi on the voracious coal mining which, according to local government, has left more than 8,000 square miles of the surface dangerously vulnerable to subsidence and sinkholes.

Shanxi Huang Jia Po is a village on the edge. For centuries, 500 farmers have lived here, carving stepped fields into the side of their mountain and planting corn, marrows and aubergines in the fertile yellow soil that covers Shanxi province.

But the children of the farmers will have to live somewhere else, because it is only a matter of time before the village falls into the honeycomb of mining tunnels below. Standing in his courtyard, Lu Linhu points to a 30ft deep hole that has opened up in the cement outside his front door. Behind him, wide cracks have appeared in the walls and ceiling of his bedroom. The 38-year-old Mr Lu, like many other villagers, has used gaudy posters to cover the holes and ease his state of mind.

“We cannot really sleep properly any more,” he said. “At night, we can feel the shaking of the ground when they use dynamite in the mine. And when it rains, the water comes flooding in through the cracks.

“We have sent our children away to live near their school, but when they come to visit I feel extra nervous, in case the roof collapses.” […]

At the top of the mountain, miners said they were pulling 900,000 tons of coal a year from the ground. “Why would we stop? There is still coal underneath,” one shrugged.

Residents do receive some compensation but, as in the case of dam relocations elsewhere, it does not cover the full cost of the move.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month on the relocation of a mining town in the Swedish Arctic to allow the extraction of iron ore, much of it bound for China. In contrast with resettlements in China, however, development plans even take into account the migratory habits of local reindeer.

“We knew we didn’t really have a choice,” says Ann Catrin Fredriksson, municipal director of urban planning and environment. “And this is a company town, so there was no opposition.” […]

Kiruna is a remarkable place. Temperatures are 40 degrees below zero in the winter. A favorite snack is smoked reindeer wrapped in a sort of pita bread. “Not a great place to find a nice suit, but if you’re shopping for a drill that can operate 300 feet underground, you’re in luck,” says Anders Holstenson, an LKAB employee and mine tour guide ….

“We don’t really know where the church is going yet,” says Pastor Lise-Lott Wikolm, “but it shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s made of wood, you can just pick apart the pieces and put them together again.”

Relocation is not an option for the 5th Century Buddhist monastery in Afghanistan which faces destruction to make way for a Chinese-run copper mine. Archaeologists are working against an unknown deadline to salvage as many of the site’s relics as possible before the miners move in.

Sources:

China’s coal rush leaves three million living on the edge – Telegraph
Cold Calculus of Arctic Mining Sends a Swedish Town Packing – Wall Street Journal

September 3, 2011 12:07 AM
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