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Land Subsidence Plagues Shanxi Province
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Yang Jinhui is living in worry inside the cracked walls of his neighbor's house while he awaits a government solution to the rebuilding of his house, which collapsed a year ago due to subsidence.

"Nearly all the houses in our village have cracks," said Yang, a farmer from a village severely affected by subsidence in Lingshi County, north China's Shanxi Province, the country's number one coal producer.

Like Yang, nearly one million people across the province have been affected by subsidence, the drying-up of underground water and other ecological disasters in the past couple of decades. As coal mine owners gobble up profits, the price of excessive mining is dear.

Over half of the original 530 residents in Taoniu village, where Yang lives, have moved from the land on which they can no longer grow a sufficient amount of crops.

"All the fruit trees have died and farm produce has been dramatically reduced due to water shortages," said Yang. "Our drinking water has to be piped from a village ten kilometers away as the wells in our village dried up seven years ago."

The underground water resources in the area have almost run out as a consequence of heavy mining.

"The area of sinking land is increasing by 94 square kilometers per year in Shanxi," said Wang Hongying, head of the energy economics institute of the Shanxi Academy of Social Sciences.

The province reported that 2,940 square kilometers of land was subsiding in 2004.

The subsidence has caused tragic accidents such as the land collapse near a coal mine in Ningwu County in Shanxi last August, which killed 18 miners. There have also been reports of farm animals falling down crevices when ploughing the land in subsidence-affected areas.

Experts attribute the increase of subsidence to the province's booming mining industry, which now produces more than 500 million tons of coal per year, a quarter of the country's total.

The province has launched a three-year treatment plan for nine key sinking areas, with an investment of 6.8 billion yuan (US$870 million).

The plan aims to solve housing problems by 2008 for subsidence-affected residents, including repairing slightly damaged buildings and building new homes for those living in severely damaged ones.

"But the plan does not address the drying-up of underground water resources and worsening ecological situation," said Jing Shan, an official in charge of the subsidence treatment in Lingshi.

"Coal mining enterprises should establish special funds from the production costs to compensate for the damaged environment," Jing said.

(Xinhua News Agency January 13, 2007)

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