Dams and Landslides

Resettlement as vehicle for corruption: China perfects the crime

(December 15, 2010) The Chinese government is undertaking a massive relocation program to solve natural disasters that critics say are “man-made.” The Chinese government is once again forcing its own citizens off their land on a scale that a democratically elected government would regard as suicidal. The latest resettlement plan is happening in Shaanxi Province, where officials say they intend to move 2.79 million. The resettlement plan, they say, is part of a major effort to reduce the risks from natural disasters such as landslides.

As part of the plan, 2.4 million people in three southern cities in Shaanxi and and 392,000 from northern Shaanxi will be relocated. In total, the resettlement program will be twice as large as those forced to move for the Three Gorges dam, which, officially, pushed 1.2 million people off of their land. “We have to resettle these people in remote mountain areas who are still living in the worst living conditions,” Zhao Yongzheng, the acting governor of Shaanxi Province, said. He expects the plan to take more than a decade to complete.

Officials in charge of the resettlement project have promised subsidies for the families and basic infrastructure such as hospital clinics and schools. Officials also say they will provide technical training for at least one member of each migrant household. But when asked for details of the budget for the relocation program, Zhang He, an official from the provincial government, said the plan is still a rough draft. While the government says the resettlement program is intended to protect citizens from the increased risk of natural disasters in Shaanxi Province, critics charge that many landslides have been caused themselves by infrastructure projects and are not natural disasters at all.

The most famous case of unsafe development occurred in 2008, when a reservoir holding waste ore dregs burst at a mine in Shaanxi, killing hundreds of residents. In fact, officials have already acknowledged the unnatural cause of these so called “natural” disasters:  In 2008 Wang Jun, the State Administration of Work Safety director, said they were a result of “local governments’ poor supervision on work safety. Those responsible must be dealt with seriously.” Shaanxi Province is not alone in suffering from these “man-made” disasters.

According to Fan Xiao, chief engineer of the Regional Geology Investigation Team of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau, “natural” disasters in both Guizhou and Sichuan provinces that rocked China over the summer were, in fact, a result of poor policy decisions and the country’s super-heated development. While officials were quick to blame rains and other natural processes, Fan says there is increasing evidence to suggest otherwise. And according to a report after a deadly landslide occurred in Gansu province this past summer, officials were aware that poor policies, lax regulation and dangerously-constructed infrastructure projects were making the region more prone to landslides and flooding.

This evidence calls into question Shaanxi Province’s use of massive scale resettlement  to solve one of the problems that massive resettlement aggravates—widespread environmental harm from more intensive uses of fragile ecosystems.

The real attraction of large-scale resettlement projects to government officials, say critics such as Probe International’s Patricia Adams, is as “fishing” projects, or vehicles for corruption and influence peddling. Seen in that light, no project is too big or too uneconomic to launch, hence this latest contradictory and ruinous project to shuffle 2.4 million people around the province of Shaanxi. Brady Yauch, Probe International, December 15, 2010 Further Reading:

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