Guangdong is the southernmost province of China. In this province, just south of Liangqiao, there is a small village called as Shangba. This village, hidden in sugar cane and paddy fields, has a population of just 3300 people. From all outwardly appearances, Shangba looks like an idyllic place. Unfortunately, this village is known today as Village of death.
Since 1987, at least 250 people from this village have died from a malignancy or a cancer. What is worst is that almost 80% of the deaths in this village are due to cancers of the liver or the digestion systems. Just last year, 6 people from this village died because of this reason. In addition to this, majority of the villagers are suffering from skin diseases or kidney stones. There is a river called Hengshui, which flows near this village. The water flowing in this river and the ground water near this village are the root cause of this situation.
Hengshui river water is very viscous and has a murky white to bright orange appearance. Because of the viscosity, no ripples are seen on the water surface even in breezy conditions. All the fish and shrimp in the river are dead long back. Chickens and ducks, if they drink this water die. If a person puts his legs in the water, he gets rashes and terrible itching. There is a small dam built on this river for supplying water to the village. Since no water purification system has been installed, the water coming out of taps in the village, is very dirty and of dark brown colour. Hengshui River is now called ‘Dead River’.
Main source of this disastrous pollution of the river water is the Government owned Copper and Iron Ore mines located nearby at Dabaoshan. The wastewater from these mines gets mixed up with waters of Hengshui River. The tests on the water show, heavy contamination of lead, arsenic, zinc, Cadmium and Indium metals. Just last year these mines took out 6000 tons of copper ore and 850000 tons of iron ore. Because of this wastewater mixing the waters of the river, even the rice produced in the fields near Shangba village has heavy Cadmium percentage and tests foul.
Most of the villagers are farmers and are very poor compared to Chinese averages. Polluted water and contaminated rice is taking very heavy toll on them. The situation has become so serious that whenever anyone falls sick, the diagnosis is always cancer. Some of the villagers have started climbing mountains nearby to fetch pure water for daily use. This is very hard work. They still cannot escape from the dark shadow of cancer because they still need to eat the Cadmium contaminated rice.
Mines at Dabaoshan have offered some financial help to the villagers. However, it is just a pittance when cost of treatment for cancer is considered.
Chinese Government very proudly calls China as Workshop to the world. It however seems that to run this workshop, some of the poorest people in China have to pay very heavy price. In any autocratic society, major decisions can always be taken at a very high speed. However, since there are no pressures or lobbying groups, there is no effective check and balance system to monitor the correctness or after effects of such decisions. This in many instances leads to such situations. Meanwhile poor folks living in Shangba and in the vicinity of river Hengshui continue to suffer.
20 September 2009