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Overdevelopment Blamed for Slides

August 12, 2010

Analysts say mismanagement of land led to erosion
and mudslides in central China.
Radio Free Asia (RFA)
August 10, 2010

HONG KONG -- Overdevelopment and environmental
mismanagement are at least partly to blame for a
mudslide in central China’s Gansu province that
left more than 1,000 people dead over the
weekend, according to Chinese and Tibetan analysts.

Their claims contradict an earlier statement from
Gansu Province Land and Natural Resources Bureau
officials that an earthquake in nearby Sichuan
province nearly two years ago destabilized the
land, which caused the slide following heavy rains Sunday morning.

Wang Shijin, an associate professor at Jiangxi
University’s Research Center for Environment and
Resources Law Institute, said rock and soil
around the seat of Zhouqu county, located in
Gansu’s Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, was
unusually loose before the rains.

Wang said he could not exclude land mismanagement
as the cause of the slide, adding that many of
China’s landslides in recent years have been the result of human error.

"Over-mining is one of the reasons [leading to
landslides]. The other reason is that after
mining, [the related parties] do not shut down
the site and just leave it there," Wang said.

"No one pays attention to the safety issues which
in turn affect the whole area," he said.

Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan writer, said
deforestation and over-construction of dams in
the area were the two leading causes of the disaster in Zhouqu county.

"Since 2003, 47 electricity pylons have been
built along the river in this little county. It’s
because of this large scale of hydro-electric
construction, coupled with the over-exploitation
of mines in a county full of mining resources, such as gold," Woeser said.

"Their reckless mining activities seriously damage the environment there."

She added that local officials are trying to use
the earthquake as a way to shift the focus away
from the true cause of the mudslide -- land mismanagement under their watch.

A Tibetan from Zhouqu, who asked to remain
anonymous, said residents believe dam
construction in the area may have contributed to
the instability of the terrain.

"We suspect the construction of an excessive
number of dams in the area might have affected
the local environment and brought in unprecedented mudslides in the area."

Residents could not escape

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) had dispatched
5,300 soldiers, 150 vehicles, four helicopters
and 20 speed boats to Zhouqu, the agency said.

Some 1,243 people have been rescued and 42 of
them were found seriously injured, Xinhua quoted
Tian Baozhong, head of the provincial civil
affairs department, as saying Tuesday.

Penma Dorje, a local Tibetan who lives on the
border of the county and survived the slides,
said flooding on Sunday happened so quickly that
many people were unable to escape.

"The flooding occurred around 1 a.m. Many people
were still sleeping and could not flee. My
friend, his wife, his parents and kids are all
gone. Their house is also gone -- The mudslide
washed everything away. Many bodies could not be found," Penma Dorje said.

"What I know is that there are 4,000 to 5,000
people in the town. What I heard from my friends
is that at least 2,000 houses were buried. I
would guess that at least 4,000 people have been buried," he said.

"Many people are trying to dig through the debris [to see if anyone is alive]."

A villager surnamed Li, who has volunteered at
the hospital, said flood waters had not yet receded.

"There is still flooding at the hospital. All the
streets are covered by water. Many people have
been trying to save lives by digging."

A Zhouqu resident surnamed Zhou said there
appeared to be more bodies than survivors in the town.

"They are digging out [bodies] all over the
place," he said. "They are all carrying corpses."

Rescue efforts hampered

A Red Cross worker in Zhouqu county said it
currently takes 10 hours for the caravan of
vehicles carrying relief material to travel from
the capital Lanzhou to the areas hardest hit by the slides.

"Road conditions are difficult. All our relief
material and rescue crews are being sent there," the worker said.

"We are concerned whether our relief material
will arrive on time," he said, adding that there
are many Tibetans among the injured.

An official in Gannan Tibetan Prefecture who
asked to remain anonymous said many people remain unaccounted for.

"The whereabouts of 1,000 to 2,000 people are
unknown. They may be buried underneath the mud," he said.

"If these people are truly missing, then there's
probably no hope for them. This stuff is like liquid concrete."

He said that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had
visited the site of the disaster in the afternoon to oversee rescue operations.

"Much of the town is buried under mud and debris
-- [The site] is located in the Tibetan area. Of
the 130,000 residents here, a little more than
40,000 are Tibetans. The percentage of Tibetans
[in the area] is not very high," the official said.

A second Gannan official said recent rainstorms
had dumped more than 90 millimeters of rain on
the region in a short space of time, with the
floodwaters building up into a dammed lake, which then flooded the county town.

"The county town is situated in a pass between
two hills, and it's very hard to get to," the official said.

"One one side you have the Bailong river, and on
the other you have steep cliffs. They road was
built along the top of the cliffs. It's the worst
section of the entire Bailong riverside highway."

Another Tibetan resident of Zhouqu, who asked to
remain anonymous, said that among those found
dead, one-third are ethnic Tibetans and
two-thirds are Chinese. He said people of all
backgrounds are assisting in the rescue efforts.

"Both the local people and soldiers are involved
in digging out the mudslide. Assistance has also
arrived from other Tibetan areas too -- they all
decided to help by themselves," the Tibetan resident said.

"Since the roads are affected, there are traffic
jams in the area. Outside help is finding it very
difficult to get into the area."

Risk of further slides

The head of rescue operations, a man surnamed
Liu, said there had been little time to tend to the dead.

"We will take care of them soon. The health
department has dispatched many workers to
fumigate the area. Some have requested that the bodies be cremated," Liu said.

He said there were a number of Tibetans among the
dead and that the rescue crew would do its best
to honor local funeral traditions.

"This is an area populated by minorities. We must
respect their customs," he said.

A member of the rescue crew surnamed Zhang said
that even aid workers were at risk with further
rains predicted by the China Meteorological Administration through Tuesday.

"We are without power and water" The electricity
we are using is from emergency generators," Zhang said.

"We are worried that if a mudslide happens again, things will be much worse."

A worker with the local phone company said
communications to the area had been severed in the slide.

"Cables have been broken. We are not able to get
in touch with people over there [at the mudslide site]."

Floods in China this year have left more than
1,100 people dead and caused tens of billions of
dollars in damage across 28 provinces and
regions. The flooding is the worst China has seen in a decade.

* Original reporting by Qiao Long for RFA’s
Mandarin service and Li Li for RFA’s Cantonese
service. Translated from Mandarin by Jennifer
Chou and from Cantonese by Shiny Li. Written in
English by Joshua Lipes and Luisetta Mudie.
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