China Focus: Anti-pollution efforts rock quarries in Guangxi

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-25 14:36:32|Editor: Yang Yi
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NANNING, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- More than a year ago, Ma Sunjie was haunted by fear that explosions at nearby quarries might damage his house.

Ma, 47, lives in the village of Majiacun by the other-worldly Lijiang River, where clean water flows between picturesque karst mountains in Guilin, a prime tourist destination in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The area has several UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites.

"Work at the quarries began in 2002, and they have been blasting the mountains day and night ever since," Ma said. "The explosions caused cracks in my house and threw a lot of dust in the air."

But from now on, Ma can rest safe in his bed, as the Guilin government has closed illegal quarries, 21 of them so far.

Only a year ago, explosions were often heard along the otherwise tranquil river. Ma's village was a constant tumult of quarrying machines and trucks carrying rocks away, leaving behind trails of dust and scarred mountains.

Behind the quarrying were huge profits. One quarry was extracting 540,000 tonnes each year, while the authorized annual amount was just 150,000 tonnes. Each tonne of rock represented about 30 yuan (4.5 U.S. dollars) of profit. That meant more than 16 million yuan each year.

Guo Chunqing, an environment professor with Guilin University of Technology, said that the mountains along the river are of typical karst formations, characterized by thin soil and little vegetation. If damaged, it will be very difficult to restore the landscape.

"The crazy over-exploitation meant pollution of the river and a threat to the entire ecosystem there," Guo said.

Fortunately, Guilin realized the severe consequences of over-exploitation and has taken tough steps.

In Lingchuan County, for instance, the local government has closed a quarry in Majiacun and spent 190 million yuan on restoring the environment. Now the site of the quarry is covered with Bermuda grass, which can be fed to domestic animals and is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

In Guilin's Qixing District, a quarry paid about one million yuan in taxes in the past few years, but damage to the nearby mountains cost a staggering 10 million yuan to restore, said Yi Lidong, the deputy district head.

By mid-August, the Guilin government had spent about 258 million yuan restoring 136 hectares. The government has also banned all new quarries and 37 officials in Guilin have been punished.

Law enforcers use drones to inspect quarries. If any illegal activity is spotted, the government takes action, 319 times from January to July this year.

But with the closure of the quarries comes a loss of jobs.

In Ma Sunjie's village, the quarry was a major source of income for most of the 230 households, bringing in about 700,000 yuan in rent annually, and jobs for villagers.

"I bought a truck a few years ago to carry the rocks, which brought me at least 50,000 yuan a year," said villager Ma Qiansheng. "Now the quarry is gone, I had to sell the truck and now find whatever work I can."

To help the villagers, a company has signed a deal with them to transform the quarry site. Villagers lease their land to the company, while the latter plants flowers and vegetation there to develop rural tourism. Revenue from tourism will be shared, with 30 percent going to the villagers.