Venice of east fights sinking feeling

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 12:00am

Suzhou is suffering the same fate as its Italian namesake

The city dubbed by many as 'the Venice of the east' is sinking - just like its Italian sister.

Since the 1950s, the city of Suzhou has sunk 1.5 metres, and between 1994 and 1996 it sank more than 10cm a year. Venice has sunk 24cm over the past century.

A senior engineer with the Suzhou Seismology Bureau, Yin Shilin, said more than 30 families had been evacuated to nearby Huangdai because of sinking land. 'We will see more relocations in the near future if the situation does not improve,' he said.

Residents of several of the city's villages have begun to dam rivers and pump extra water out in an effort to stabilise the ground.

'This will not solve the problem,' said Mr Yin, who blamed the sinking on excessive extraction of underground water. This practice was banned in downtown Suzhou at the start of the year and will be outlawed in the city's rural areas by the end of next year.

But the city is still sinking by 3cm a year. Higher banks have been built around Suzhou to stop rivers bursting their banks.

'When it rains heavily, some streets get flooded and turn into rivers, like Venice,' Mr Yin said.

He blames pollution for the situation. During the 1980s and 1990s, many high-polluting townships and joint-venture enterprises were established in the region.

'They polluted Lake Tai, the fourth largest inland lake in China, along with many other local rivers. This forced people to look underground for clean water,' he said.

Government figures show the national average per-capita water allocation is 2,695 cubic metres, but the figure for Suzhou is less than 2,000 cubic metres. 'Residents in Suzhou do not lack water. We lack unpolluted water,' said Mr Yin, adding water from the Yangtze River had been diverted into Lake Tai to ease the pollution.

Suzhou is not the only Chinese city that is sinking: several in Zhejiang, along with Wuxi and Changzhou in Jiangsu, and the municipalities of Shanghai and Tianjin, are all dealing with subsidence.

While the problem in Shanghai has also been linked to an excess of skyscrapers, Mr Yin said Suzhou's problem was different.

'We don't have very many skyscrapers here,' he said. 'Artificial lakes are now being dug in Suzhou, but not because we need to beautify the city. We need the soil to raise the ground level on which to build new structures so that they won't get flooded.'


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