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Danger all in a day's work for engineer

By Wang Huazhong  (China Daily)

08:37, September 08, 2011

Zhou Xun, an environmental and social assessment engineer. (Photo/China Daily)

LOGAR, Afghanistan -Zhou Xun has had to be careful of unexploded bombs in dozens of Afghan villages.

He is well aware of the risk of being abducted by the Taliban.

The narrow lanes between houses remind him of scenes of deadly urban warfare.

And when he goes out into the Tahitak community to check the local copper mine, he is accompanied by a police commander carrying a machine gun.

"But I have to go. My job is not only for the copper mine but also for the community itself," he said.

Zhou, 35, is an environmental and social assessment engineer with the Chinese venture MCC-JCL Aynak Minerals Company Ltd, which is preparing to tap one of the largest copper deposits in Afghanistan's Logar province.

The Sichuan native's key role is to coordinate with a third party assessment company to collect firsthand social and environmental data. That includes hydrology, atmosphere and soil conditions, as well as uncovering the living conditions and religious backgrounds of the local people by interviewing them face to face.

His presence in the community on a sweltering summer day drew curious spectators, who stood staring behind him or watching from rooftops.

"Then I remembered a village elder I had visited before who said he lost a leg and several sheep from an explosive device."

Zhou did not let his guard down until a group of laughing children ran toward them, surrounding them and offering handshakes.

Many couldn't speak English, but they knew Zhou came from China and took an interest in him.

"One of them, about 10 years old, wanted to exchange some kungfu moves with me," Zhou said.

"He made one of Bruce Lee's iconic gestures."

Zhou said that was surprising since only 2 percent of the community's families have TV sets.

Later that day, the elder of the community promised Zhou they could take off their bulletproof jackets "as friends", and invited them for a homemade dinner. Though living poorly in clay houses, the locals offered them pancakes and tea.

However, Zhou said safety is not the only hurdle they have to overcome. There are also the high standards on environmental and social assessment set by the International Finance Corporation under the World Bank.

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