Toxic villages look to Hunan for lessons

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 August, 2009, 12:00am

The metal poisoning scandal in Liuyang city, Hunan province has become a case study for tens of thousands people across the mainland who are suffering under corrupt local administrations and from the effects of pollution.

The cadmium poisoning that killed at least five people and poisoned hundreds more in Shuangqiao village, Zhentou town in Liuyang, has been widely reported after a large protest by residents caught media attention.

Now many people suffering from the same pollution problems in other parts of the country are travelling to the Hunan backwater to learn the town's lessons.

Six representatives from a village in Jiangxi , the province next to Hunan, arrived at Shuangqiao village on Friday.

They said hundreds of villagers had also been poisoned with cadmium and they had been trying for 10 years to get the local government to do something about it.

'Apart from learning their strategy, what we want to know the most is the details of their compensation package,' one of the Jiangxi representatives surnamed Jia said.

For six years, Xianghe Chemical plant discharged untreated toxic waste into areas around Shuangqiao village, paying environmental protection officials to turn a blind eye to illegal operations.

The case came to public attention when villagers protested about the death of five residents from cadmium poisoning and laid siege to government buildings on July 30.

What happened in Liuyang is hardly an isolated case. Pollution is now among the prime causes of social unrest and protests on the mainland.

But increasingly the victims have started to band together and learn from each other's experiences. Zhentou villagers said they had travelled to a nearby village which had also suffered pollution problems to study their experience before launching their protest.

Eight Shuangqiao village representatives visited Xinma village in nearby Zhuzhou city in late June and learned how residents had successfully forced the closure of a polluting electroplating plant.

'We studied their case and used the information to draw up our compensation requests,' said a village representative.

Ironically, local officials are also doing the same. Many civil servants have been travelling to other administrations to learn how to handle pollution-triggered protests.

Ahead of a crunch meeting with villagers in Zhentou, the local party boss visited nearby townships which had similar pollution problems to gather information.

'[The party leader] told us that officials in other towns would never offer us as much as he did and he cited much information he had obtained from the trip,' a villager who attended the town meeting said.