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Shenzhen – a disaster waiting to happen

It was a man-made hill of dirt and construction debris.  Covered by paddy fields in the late 1970, Shenzhen became an impressive economic zone where biotechnology and telecommunications industries came to implant themselves.  And while some are blaming China’s rapid construction growth as the cause of the landslide, others are looking squarely at Chinese officials who acted in a negligent manner.

Zongxing Environmental Technology, which conducted a survey at the site, warned of erosion risks which might cause landslides. That report however has been removed, according to The 21st Century Business Herald, a Chinese newspaper.  And apart from an obtuse “the relevant people are handling the incident,” everyone is keeping schtum at the agency.  For those like Li Xigui, a metal craftsman, something was bound to “go wrong in the future. They started piling up the dirt and waste roughly two years ago.”

The Chinese authorities, except for an order to officials by President Xi Jingping to “make every effort to reduce the number of casualties,” have not said much. Police arrested a deputy general manager of the Yixianglong company, a company that was subcontracted by another company to manage the site, Tuesday.

For many observers, these arrests may not be enough to solve the problem, which according to Yuan Hongping, an associate professor at Southwest Jiatong University, “is a problem for all of China.”  For Mr. Hongping who has researched construction waste disposal methods in South China, “the biggest problem is that there are regulations but they are not always followed.”  This was evidently the case in this landslide, which took many inhabitants by surprise.

“The noise halted for a while and then started again, and it got louder and louder,” one of the residents said.  “We were joking that it must be some rich people lighting lots of fire crackers.”  It wasn’t until they saw people running, evidently fleeing, that they realised a landslide was heading their way.  Many of the residents left in just their pajamas and had no time to grab anything else.

Reports coming in speak of 81 people still missing and many of those are feared to be migrants employed in the factories near the site.  For the survivors among them, their immediate concern is about their wages and not who might be responsible for the disaster.

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