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Stuck in the mud

(Global Times)

08:22, February 08, 2012

Devastating climate change, pollution and drought have shrunk China's second largest freshwater lake, leaving dozens families stranded on its mud flats.

Dongting Lake has been home to thousands of fisher families for hundreds of years. For generations they have lived on houseboats, but the lake can no longer sustain them and the local government is expected to help the remaining 60 families settle on dry land.

They don't have permanent residency certificates (hukou) and are registered simply as lake residents. Without a hukou they are not entitled to receive government support of social welfare and can't find jobs.

Dongting Lake's water level often fluctuates during the year. During the summer it can cover 5,000 square kilometers but this winter it has shrunk to less than 1,000 square kilometers following a series of droughts.

With increasingly longer periods of drought causing a drastic drop in the water level, many fishers have already abandoned their houseboats, at least during the dry season. The city government of Yueyang, Hunan Province, gave many of them hukou and helped them build their homes on land. They now only fish part time when the lake water rises in the spring and work at jobs on shore during other times of year.

About 300 fishermen are still trying to eke out a living on the mud flats. Although they live on a lake, one of their biggest challenges is collecting clean freshwater. Even their smallest boats become stranded on the swampy lake bed and have to be tugged through the mud flats by improvised amphibious tractors.

It appears certain the remaining fisher families will be required to settle on land. They are hoping the Yueyang government will resolve their hukou issue soon, as they were promised. They must get out of the mud and find jobs to support their families, they say.

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