MAC/20: Mines and Communities

China Tries to Stem Flow of Coal Mine Disasters

Published by MAC on 2005-04-06

China Tries to Stem Flow of Coal Mine Disasters

Story by John Ruwitch, Planet Ark (Reuters News Service)

April 6, 2005

Beijing - Mine accidents in coal-hungry China killed 1,113 people in the first three months of the year, the government said on Tuesday as it laid out a new plan to try to halt the carnage in the world's deadliest mining industry.

The figure represented a 20.2 percent jump in the number of fatalities from the same period last year, the State Administration of Work Safety said. The biggest problem has been enforcing the innumerable regulations designed to keep the industry's more than 25,000 mines safe, said Li Yizhong, minister of the administration.

"The most fundamental reason for these kinds of mining disasters is that supervision and administration are not very strong, and the laws are not strictly enforced," Li told a news conference.

Last year, more than 6,000 miners were killed in explosions, floods and other underground disasters in China, and Premier Wen Jiabao has pledged to spend 3 billion yuan ($362.5 million) to improve mine safety.

Funding for safety has been a problem and the administration planned to raise the bar, Li said. Mine enterprises were required to put aside two to 10 yuan ($0.24-$1.21) for safety measures per tonne of coal produced, he said.

"We are preparing to issue a supplementary document to exceed that amount according to the situation," Li said.

China produced 1.95 billion tonnes of coal last year but official media say it can safely mine only half that rate. The death rate in Chinese mines is 100 times that of pits in the United States.

Higher Compensation

The administration also pledged to arrest mine operators running illegal pits and supported high levels of compensation for families of victims as a deterrent.

"We are cracking down on all kinds of illegal mining operations, and rectifying mines that failed to meet work safety standards," Li said.

"Increasing the level of compensation is increasing the cost of accidents," he said, adding he hoped the high cost would make mine operators realise that paying for better safety would be cheaper.

Some areas have recently put the level of compensation paid to families at 11-15 years worth of victims' salary.

The government has had trouble shutting down unsafe mines, especially amid a nationwide shortage of coal, which is the main source of energy in power-hungry China.

Zhao Tiechui, deputy head of the work safety administration, denied that China's policy of reliance on coal was part of the problem, even though others in the government have admitted that China's thirst for coal was causing mine operators to keep unsafe mines open and push beyond safe production capacities.

"Mine disasters and China's energy policy are not directly related," he said, pointing the finger at mining conditions and the depth of mine shafts in China.

The State Administration of Work Safety was recently elevated to ministry status in a sign of the government's commitment to ending chronic safety lapses.

(US$1 = 8.28 yuan)

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