MAC: Mines and Communities

China Update

Published by MAC on 2006-08-05

China Update

5th August 2006

Eighteen miners die in gas leak accident

Xinhua News Agency August 5 2006 Eighteen miners were killed in a coal mine gas leak accident in Ningwu county, Shanxi Province, according to Xinhua.

The report said a collapse occurred in the ground within the mining area of Dahuiyao Coal Mine in Ningwu county at noon on 4 August which caused a fire.

A total of 34 miners were working underground when the accident occurred. Only three miners escaped. Rescuers later lifted 14 more miners out of the shaft and one of them died in the hospital. The rescue workers later found the bodies of the other 17 trapped miners.

Shanxi Province is the biggest coal producer in China, but a lot of fatal coal mine accidents also frequently happen in the province. On 7 July, a blast caused by explosives illegally stored at a villager’s home happened in the same county, killing 47 people, including school children, and inuring 28 others.

China Tightens Central Control Over Environment

by PlanetArk CHINA:

2nd August 2006

BEIJING - China's environmental watchdog will set up branch offices to monitor and investigate environmental issues, bypassing regional bureaux, Xinhua news agency reported.

The offices, some of which will also monitor nuclear and radiation security, will come under the direct control of the central State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA). "They are directly led by SEPA and will not take instructions from local environmental protection departments," Xinhua quoted an unnamed SEPA official as saying.

China has been trying to curb pollution and tighten its monitoring of potential environmental hazards, following major disasters including a toxic spill last year that poisoned the Songhua River, a source of drinking water for millions.

But despite tighter rules and more spending, the government has conceded to being stymied by local officials who are reluctant to use cleaner technologies if they are more expensive and who value economic growth above environmental safety.

Regional environment departments, which are affiliated with local governments, were also inefficient and timid about exposing pollution scandals that involved local officials, the Xinhua report said.


HK Urges Power Companies to Meet Emission Targets

PlanetArk CHINA

2nd August 2006

HONG KONG - Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang has warned the territory's two power companies to comply with emission reduction targets otherwise it might affect their bids to renew their licenses in 2008.

"It's important for everyone to remember that the emissions from power companies in Hong Kong are regarded as the main source of air pollution," Chief Executive Tsang said on Tuesday during a trip to Guangzhou city in southern China to discuss the cross border air pollution issue with Chinese officials.

He added that the power companies needed to clean up their act in order for Hong Kong to comply with an agreement on emission standards with the Guangdong government to cut air pollution levels by 2010.

"I'm determined to ensure that this standard will be complied with by the power companies and I will consider it in the context of the renewal of the scheme of control which will expire in 2008," Tsang said.

The scheme of control is a contractual agreement between the Hong Kong government and the two local power companies -- CLP Holdings and Hong Kong Electric Holdings Ltd -- governing pricing and profitability.

With the agreement due to expire in 2008 -- green groups have pressed the Hong Kong government to force the power companies to comply with more stringent environmental standards -- as a pre-condition for renewal.

In recent years, Hong Kong's worsening air pollution has become a growing cause of concern, affecting public health and even scaring foreign businesses away from the territory.

Whilst coal-fired power companies are largely responsible for air pollution in the city, thousands of Hong Kong owned factories in the Pearl River Delta have also been blamed for the regular bad-air days plaguing the city.

By 2010, both Hong Kong and Guangdong have agreed to cut sulphur dioxide emissions by 40 percent among other targets, which Tsang quoted mainland officials as saying remained on track.


China to Divert Tibet's Waters to Parched West

PlanetArk CHINA

2nd August 2006

BEIJING - China's quest to master its future through vast engineering feats could test new limits as Beijing prepares a controversial scheme to channel water from Tibet to the parched Yellow River in the country's west.

At 300 kilometres (188 miles) long, the system of tunnels could prove to be one of modern China's most technically challenging feats and will cost more than the US$25 billion Three Gorges dam, officials say.

Yet they say it's an essential link in a vast system of water transfer projects from China's relatively abundant rivers in the south to the increasingly parched north and northwest. Despite this year's unusually heavy rains, northern China has been prey to drought in recent decades, and underground water tables have been rapidly depleting.

President Hu Jintao, a hydro-engineer who worked for decades in western China, has backed the plan, Liu Changming, a hydrologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Reuters.

Construction could start as early as 2010, Liu said. It would involve harnessing rivers cascading from the Tibetan highlands to quench Qinghai province and other poor western areas.

Li Guoying, director of the Yellow River Water Conservancy Committee, said in Beijing on Tuesday the Yellow River, one of the north's main waterways, was shrinking because of rising demand for water.

"When the economic and social development of the northwest reaches a certain level and the potential of water-saving measures is exhausted, this project will be launched," he told a news briefing.

The so-called Western Route of China's South-North Water Transfer Project will join the Central and Eastern Routes, already under construction, that will draw water from the much larger Yangtze River to ease shortages in Beijing and elsewhere.

Two-thirds of China's roughly 600 cities suffer water shortages, including 108 with serious shortfalls, Li said.


The Western Route will use a 300 kilometre relay of tunnels drilled through mountains to pump water from the Yalong, Dadu and Jinsha Rivers that flow into southwest China.

"The route isn't especially long, but it's technologically challenging, and it's a matter of resolving the engineering and environmental questions," said Liu, who is advising the government on the project.

The completed project would cost 300 billion yuan (US$37.5 billion) at current prices, and the total cost of the whole South-North scheme is 500 billion yuan (US$62.5 billion), Li said.

For China's Communist Party leaders -- nearly all engineers -- the Western Route promises to fulfil promises to use rising economic and technological might to lift the less developed west.

A recent Chinese book, Tibet's Water Will Save China, details leaders' enthusiasm for diverting the region's rivers and has been widely circulated among senior officials, China's Southern Weekend newspaper reported last week.

But the Western Route promises to be among the most controversial of Beijing's efforts to reshape the country's rivers. Environmentalists and advocates of Tibetan autonomy have said the plan threatens the region's ecology and culture.

"It epitomizes this assumption that Tibet is the water tower of Asia," said Tashi Tsering, a Tibetan expert on the region's resources at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

"Tibet's water availability is actually quite limited and these rivers depend on glaciers that are receding."

Liu said planners would carefully calibrate flows to ensure the source rivers remained viable. Other Chinese researchers have said earthquakes and landslides could threaten the project.

In its first phase, the project will transfer about 4 billion cubic metres of water annually -- about the size of California's main water transfer scheme, according to Liu -- and decades later the project will divert 17 billion cubic metres a year.

In past decades, the Yellow River's yearly runoff has been about 58 billion cubic metres but is shrinking, according to the Conservancy Committee.

In June, China finished the Three Gorges Dam, it's largest hydro-power project. Officials are also considering controversial plans for hydro-power stations to tame wild rivers that plunge from Tibet into Yunnan province. (US$1 = 8 yuan)

Story by Chris Buckley



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