Building stormed by angry villagers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 February, 2010, 12:00am

More than 300 villagers from Hengshishui in Guangdong stormed the town government's building, demanding the release of five people detained last week after a clash with police over a water diversion project.

A water shortage in the province, where drought and widespread pollution have long been a problem, triggered the protest on Sunday.

At least six people were injured and two police vehicles damaged, according to the Yingde city government, which has jurisdiction over the town.

The residents - from the villages of Hengling, Xibei and Hengshi - had protested after being incited by troublemakers, a government statement said. Windows and office equipment were also broken.

'At first, the villagers just wanted to submit a petition to have the detainees freed,' Hua Shengzhou , one of the villagers from Hengshi, said. 'It went out of control when the people became angry over the officials' bad attitude.'

The five detainees were among 100 representatives the three villages sent to a reservoir on Saturday to stop Hengshishui's water from being transferred to neighbouring Qiaotou town, where the river has been severely polluted by smelting factories upriver.

'Many residents of Hengshishui worry that the water transfer project will worsen the water shortage problem,' Hua said. 'Our villages have been in drought for years and the situation gets worse year by year. The villagers feel that water should not be shared if their own farmland and livestock are already dying of thirst.'

No one from the Hengshishui or Yingde governments was available for comment.

Many Guangdong cities, including Meizhou, Shaoguan, Shantou, Chaozhou and Qingyuan, have reported serious water shortages in recent years, especially in the northern part of the province.

Each summer, the Beijiang, one of the three tributaries of the Pearl River near Yingde, dries up. Working and sightseeing boats have disappeared from the usually busy river, as navigation has become too difficult. The other two tributaries, the Xijiang and Dongjiang, are also drying up.

The water shortage is made worse by industrial pollution. Hua said many neighbouring areas had to scramble for fresh water as a result.

'Not only Qiaotou but almost all areas here have been affected, since the Beijiang has been polluted for years by the upriver smelting factories in Shaoguan,' he said.

In November 2005, Yingde had to stop drawing water from the Beijiang as the effluent from a smelter in Shaoguan pushed up the level of cadmium, a heavy metal, to 10 times the acceptable limit. Thirty-four people suffered stomach pain and vomited after drinking water from the river. They were taken to hospital.

Xinhua reported that government workers once poured iron and aluminium chemicals into the river. Officials said they hoped the additional chemicals would force the cadmium to sink to the bottom instead of flowing downstream.