Stinking waves waft out from the chlorella-covered river, endless piles of rotting garbage mount on the riverbank — When an outside visitor arrives the rubbish dump called Xi’er village, he must think that he’s entered hell.
Zhang Liansheng, a 60-year-old villager told the Beijing News that this dump site, a sprawling 1,000 mu (a traditional Chinese unit of area equaling to 666 2/3 m²), used to be green farmlands. But years of excavating sand and dumping rubbish have transformed the site into a huge garbage can.
From farmland to rubbish dump
Located in Shahe township, Changping District of Beijing, Xi’er village is bathed by branches of the Wenyu River and faces a famous villa resort across the bank.
Before the tragedy began, the farmland produced abundant harvests every year, feeding all of the 1,900 villagers. “The soil was fertile. Rice, corn, wheat – all our crops grew well,” sighed a 70-year-old man. Villagers grew more than enough grain. Farmers supplemented their income by selling their surplus. These villagers enjoyed a fairly self-sufficient life.
But things began to change in late 2002. Village officials started renting their farmland to outsiders at low prices. “The farmland was not as fertile as some people assumed, so we wanted to find other ways to earn money,” explained Li Zhizhong, the village’s Party chief.
As per the contract, the land was allotted for husbandry and forestry only. But the renters found a more profitable business – excavating sand. “From that time onward, the sand excavations began,” some villagers confirmed.
In 2005, a real estate firm from Beijing spotted this area and wanted to develop it into a commercial center. But just as they cleaned out all the husbandry and forestry facilities, development ceased due to lack of funds. The firm left, leaving nothing but ravaged land behind.
“We’ve been contacting and negotiating with them; no settlement has been reached yet,” said Li. Unfortunately the suspension left a loophole for the illegal sand excavators and rubbish dumpers to sneak in.
“There are rivers running by, so the sand here is of good quality,” explained a villager. At least 3 illegal sand excavation sites sprung up here. Meanwhile, others set up landfills, utilizing the large pits left by the excavators. “We are only making a tiny little fortune compared with the excavators,” claimed a dump owner.
There are about 10 landfills of different sizes throughout the village. Most are unlicensed. “Trucks trundle in and out on dirt roads, dumping garbage, creating mountains,” said Zhang. “Such trucks can total more than a hundred per day at most! It’s a nightmare!”
The landfills hired workers to pick out useful items from the massive garbage. Plastic bottles, paper boxes, steel bars and bricks are recycled. Useless items are dumped directly into the pits. If no pit is currently available, a new one will be dug.
There is a shallow area covered by black mud-like material, covering over 100 square meters. If a person comes too close, he could pass out from the stench. “That is human excrement,” said one worker. The stuff is trucked here secretly at night from Beijing. “You can dump anything here, as long as you pay,” the worker added, confessing that sometimes excrement is dumped directly into the river.
The fee charged here for rubbish dump is a lot cheaper than other sites. The cost is usually half of a licensed landfill. Estimates suggest that the owners here are earning hundreds of thousand yuan annually.
The worst nightmare
While the excavators and landfill owners are making huge profits, the villagers are suffering from their worst nightmares.
With no land to till, these farmers have lost their source of income. They must buy food from outside at much higher prices than it would take them to grow their own. Most are eking out a living by renting out their houses. “They have to figure out a new way of life,” said Li. Their children have now gone to the big city looking for jobs. The elderly and the women are left behind. Many earn a living by sweeping streets or patrolling as security guards.
To clean up the garbage piles here may cost a fortune, something the village will never be able to afford. They cling to the hope that the firm might be willing to cover the expenses. “The garbage is too massive, it might scare them away!” said Zhang.
Villagers hold their local officials accountable for the tragedy, for failing to prevent the mess in the first place. But Li doesn’t agree; “The excavation and dumping were prohibited from the very beginning, and we’ve been trying to crack down on them the entire time. We even arranged guards to ward off those trucks. But they can be very tricky. They hauled rubbish in here at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning while we slept, or at noon while we ate lunch.”
But the villagers don’t buy it. “Sometimes they are just faking their efforts,” locals say. “The landfills were once shut down by the District Land and Resources Department, but it opened again immediately the following day.”
“Each year I myself hand over tens of thousands of yuan to the village committee,” explained a landfill owner surnamed Yang. “The excavators must be giving them even more.”
To the east, a 3 to 4-meter-high sand pile sits by the road, waiting for the buyer to take away. The sand is no more than 1,000 meters from the village chief’s office.
“The rubbish dump must be put out of commission immediately,” Shahe town officials said. They explained that the township government has contacted the development firm and urged them to resume construction as soon as possible. Plans have been made to gradually remove the garbage piles from the village. Household garbage will be transferred to licensed landfills; other garbage will be buried locally.
(China.org.cn by Lu Lu, September 3, 2007)