Saturday, September 3, 2011

China’s coal rush leaves three million living on the edge

Voracious mining has hollowed out vast tracts of the north of China, leaving three million people living on ground that could collapse at any moment.

To keep its glittering skylines alight, China now uses more coal than the United States, Europe and Japan combined.

In the dust-blown mountains of China’s coal belt, locals have lived for years with choking clouds of soot and the continual roar of mines that never sleep, digging for 24 hours a day. Now they face being buried alive as China tries to extract every last nugget of coal from beneath them.

Shanxi Huang Jia Po is a village on the edge. For centuries, 500 farmers have lived here, carving stepped fields into the side of their mountain and planting corn, marrows and aubergines in the fertile yellow soil that covers Shanxi province.

But the children of the farmers will have to live somewhere else, because it is only a matter of time before the village falls into the honeycomb of mining tunnels below. Standing in his courtyard, Lu Linhu points to a 30ft deep hole that has opened up in the cement outside his front door. Behind him, wide cracks have appeared in the walls and ceiling of his bedroom. The 38-year-old Mr Lu, like many other villagers, has used gaudy posters to cover the holes and ease his state of mind.

“We cannot really sleep properly any more,” he said. “At night, we can feel the shaking of the ground when they use dynamite in the mine. And when it rains, the water comes flooding in through the cracks. more