Well Dries Up, Rice Turns Black Near Yunnan Mine

china-yunnan-mine-nov-2013.jpg Local residents protest at the Xinyuan mine in Luobu, Yunnan on Nov. 15, 2013 against blockage of their water supply.
Photo courtesy of a protester

A rural community living near a mine in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan has lost its supply of clean drinking water, with local rice crops spoiled by mining operations near their homes and fields, villagers said on Wednesday, claiming they have been beaten for protesting against the water supply blockage.

"The rice we grew was covered in black specks after it came out," a resident of Luobu township near Yunnan's Shaotong city surnamed Wu told RFA's Cantonese Service.

"The yield had gone down to 500 or 600 jin of rice per mu [550-650 pounds per one-sixth acre], on land that used to produce 800 or 900 jin per mu [900-1,000 pounds per one-sixth acre]," Wu said.

"We have [asked the mine management for compensation], but they just told us to leave our details.... They clearly don't take this seriously. We've heard nothing since."

A member of the management team at the Xinyuan Mine in Luobu declined to comment on the dispute.

"Call me back in a minute, I'm driving," he said. But subsequent calls to his cell phone went unanswered on Tuesday.

Severe impact

A second Luobu resident surnamed He said the mine, which began operations three years ago, has had a severe impact on the lives of local people.

"They are constantly blasting," she said. "The mines have also dried up the village well."

She said local residents now have to travel "a long way" into the mountains to find clean drinking water, adding that residents have protested about the blockage of their water supply outside the mine on Friday.

"A few dozen villagers went to try to block the workers from entering the mine, but then a busload of security guards arrived and starting shoving them around and beating them," she said.

An official who answered the phone at the Luobu township government offices said the government had sent a team to investigate the complaint.

Villagers 'exaggerating'?

But he said the government believes the villagers are "exaggerating" the severity of the problem.

"This dispute has basically been resolved, and the mine has been operating normally for some time now," the official said. "The local people haven't been to the mine to petition or blockade it, and things are calm and stable."

"The county government sent people from its offices here to explain the situation to local people," he added. "Of course, there are some issues that haven't entirely been resolved."

"They are all being dealt with gradually, because they are long-term problems," the official said.

But he denied anyone had been injured in recent clashes at the mine.

"No one was injured, because no fighting took place. A villager went to the mine to complain that his house had been undermined by the mining operation, which happened several years ago now, and the county government has sent a team to investigate," he said.

Polluters protected

Recent data from Beijing show that around 90 percent of groundwater in China is polluted, much of it severely, with activists blaming local governments for protecting polluting enterprises.

In a recent survey of water quality in 118 cities across China, 64 percent of cities had "severely polluted" groundwater, Xinhua news agency quoted experts from the ministry of water resources as saying.

Activists say lack of access to clean groundwater has dire consequences for hundreds of millions of rural residents, who rely on such water both for personal use and for watering their crops.

Rapidly worsening air and water pollution, as well as disputes over the effects of heavy metals from mining and industry, have forced may people to become increasingly involved in environmental protection and protest.

Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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