27 July 2010

Interesting context to today’s landslide in China

Posted by Dave Petley

The landslide that killed 21 people in China this morning occurred in Hanyaun County (see here and here).  This article, from April this year, may provide some interesting context to the event:


Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have begun demolishing houses and forcing people from their homes near the Pubugou hydroelectic power project, which is due to go into operation soon. “They are forcibly demolishing houses,” a resident of Hanyuan county, where the evictions took place, said.  “They all came together in the night. The armed police, the regular police, the county Party secretary and officials,” said the resident, surnamed Cao.
The controversial Pubugou project, a series of ladder-like dams on Sichuan’s mountainous Dadu river, has sparked protests and armed confrontation in the past, with the army moving into the area to quell angry protests in 2004.  A total of 100,000 people will eventually be displaced by the project, which is part of Beijing’s key infrastructure investment program aimed at boosting economic growth and relieving poverty in China’s lagging western regions.
Villagers have kept up an angry and vocal protest, but according to a company announcement, the third phase of the Dadu project at Pubugou is scheduled to begin operation any day now.
‘Dead of night’
“By about 10 p.m. there were a few hundred [residents] surrounded by them,” Hanyuan resident Cao said.
“The Chinese Communist Party is supposed to be stout-hearted and honest. How come they are doing things in the dead of night?”
No comment
An employee who answered the phone at the Hanyuan county government offices denied the report.
“Sorry, I don’t know anything about this,” she said.  “Most of the villagers’ cases have been resolved. Naturally, they would obtain the villagers’ consent first [before demolishing their homes]. Also, there would be a framework for compensation to be paid.”
The company contracted to run the hydroelectric project, GD Power Development Co. Ltd., the listed arm of the leading Chinese power generator China Guodian Corp., announced April 2 it had put the third generator of its Pubugou hydropower project in Sichuan Province into operation.  A similar report was also posted online Monday, on a share-trading information Web site.
Geological scholar Fan Xiao said the government’s actions would likely heighten the risk of further devastating earthquakes in the region.  “One risk is that of reservoir-induced seismicity, and another is of other geological disasters such as landslides and mudslides, subsidence, and so on,” said Fan, who has called for a probe into the role played by hydroelectric dams in triggering the devastating Sichuan earthquake of 2008.  “All of this is likely,” Fan said.  “Last year there was a huge landslide in the Hanyuan district that blocked the Dadu river, causing a floodwater lake.”  “It was caused by the fact that when they filled up the reservoir, they drowned the highway, and had to rebuild it higher up the mountain … This caused instability.”
He called on the government to pay greater attention to what is going on in Hanyuan, which is damaging the interests of local people, he said, and causing considerable damage to the environment.  The government recently announced on its Web site that the reservoir area is to be turned into a scenic spot for tourism, but made no mention of forced evictions.