Dams and Landslides

This is not Karma

(August 14, 2010) Paul Stewart, writing in Mouth to Source, details the poor development decisions that worsened the recent landslides in Zhouqu, China.

As China declares a day of mourning for mudslide victims, the official death toll on Friday in Zhouqu, a remote town in China’s North West, Gansu province, stood at 1,156.

The reason for the mudslides appears to be well documented by officials in a report, as far back as 13 years ago.

“The mudslide was caused by geology, but it was worsened by deforestation. I never expected such a huge slide.” Dr. Qi one of the authors of the report is quoted in The Christian Science Monitor.

Official records show that government-run lumber companies cut 313,000 acres of forest from the slopes of Zhouqu county between 1952 and 1990, denuding the geologically vulnerable mountainsides and subjecting them to soil erosion.

The steep slopes and valleys that surrounded Zhouqu was habitat for mature forests of spruce, fir, juniper, larch, cypress, oak, bamboo and rhododendron. Denuded by logging as well as, “lax regulation and dangerous infrastructure projects,” according to Probe International, the environmental services it offered simply evaporated leaving this catastrophe waiting to happen.

The “avalanche of mud and rocks, which leveled an area five kilometres (three miles) long and 300 metres (1,000 feet) wide,” according to Reuters.

This event, in turn, triggered the blocking of the Bailong River which runs through the city of Zhouqu engulfing a small hydropower station in the process and adding another 127 to the death toll when the banks of the river overflowed overnight.

While flags may be flying at half mast and the sorrow and bewilderment of the survivors must be felt by many both at home and abroad the rescue services, universally praised for their efforts, continue their fight to save as many lives as they can.

It’s a job they trained for but if the mountainsides had be left as they were, retaining water and providing many additional environmental services. It is a job they would never have been called on to do.

As Claude Arpi succinctly points out in his entry. This is not Karma.

In China, an estimated 305 million people remain affected by this years torrential monsoon rains with the official death toll at 3,000 to date. The same weather system is also responsible for the continuing and increasingly desperate humanitarian situation in Pakistan.

Sources: AFP, Reuters, Christian Science Monitor, Probe International, Claude Arpi.

Paul Stewart, Mouth to Source, August 14, 2010

Read the original story here.

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