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Lessons to be learned

(China Daily)

09:45, August 08, 2011

Zhouqu, in northwest China's Gansu province, might have remained unknown to many of us had it not been for the fatal mudslide one year ago that killed 1,471, injured 2,500, and left 294 missing.

It is suspected that persistent deforestation was one of the main causes for the devastation.

When we commemorate the tragedy today, we cannot help worrying whether the people there can keep themselves from harm's way even after paying such a high price. The dozens of small hydropower plants that are being erected on local waterways constitute a serious cause for concern.

Deforestation and the Wenchuan earthquake that occurred prior to the massive landslide have rendered the Zhouqu area very fragile and unstable geologically, so the dam-building frenzy may be particularly dangerous and may have very high risks.

Even more worrying is that the dam-building craze in Zhouqu is in outright disregard of due procedures. Of the 68 hydropower projects approved by the county authorities, reportedly 67 have not undertaken the required environmental and geological assessments.

And we know Zhouqu is not alone. Many local authorities, particularly those in the water-rich southwest, share a keen interest in developing hydropower. Hydropower is believed to have become more profitable than electricity generated from fossil fuel. In many under-developed areas, hydropower plants can be major contributors to local government revenues.

Given its conspicuous contribution to local GDP figures, hydropower has become a favorite development program for officials eager to boost their personal performance record.

That is exactly why the authorities in Zhouqu have persistently ignored criticisms and complaints from geological and environmental departments as well as from the local people. The temptation of higher GDP appears irresistible to them.

We understand local authorities' keenness to take advantage of what they have available. This is actually how many places have fulfilled their rise from rags to riches.

But good-looking GDP figures are useless if they are at the price of the loss of a basic sense of security. If local officials truly bear in mind the Scientific Outlook on Development, which places people's interests before economic indices, they would not have launched projects, which will put local people in jeopardy.

Besides the mourning of the dead, the commemoration of the first anniversary of the tragedy should not go without a review of its true causes, as well as ways to prevent similar disasters from happening.

A new disaster resulting from uninformed decision-making would be intolerable.

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