Business / Economy

Houses improve herdsmen's lives

(China Daily) Updated: 2012-10-24 08:14

Reporter's Log | Huang Zhiling

Visiting the home of Natso in Ruo'ergai county, Aba Tibetan and Qiang autonomous prefecture in Sichuan province, early last month, I was impressed with his beautiful, brand-new, two-story building with a television set, washing machine and toilet with running water.

Much to my surprise, the 30-year-old herdsman said that each of the 246 households in his home village of Banyou has a new house with the modern amenities.

Nine years ago, I visited different parts of Aba for nearly two weeks and stayed in herdsmen's residences, which were tents made of yak skin.

The tents were black and heavy, leaking both rain and wind. During the nomadic period, the herdsmen could sleep only on the damp ground, where they also ate and lived.

Many of the herdsmen had rheumatism and Kaschin-Beck disease and were reduced to poverty because of the diseases.

During my stay in Hongyuan county, Aba, in 2003, I came across Yan Li, a Han Chinese from Lezhi county, Sichuan.

Having lived in Hongyuan since 1972, Yan, then 51, had worked for the county commerce bureau for much of his life, selling commodities in tents.

Living long in damp tents, Yan unfortunately contracted Kaschin-Beck disease. He showed me his deformed hand and leg with protruding bones, features of the disease.

Located on the plateau, Sichuan's pastoral areas have poor natural conditions, an awful climate and low economic development.

At the end of 2008, among the 533,000 people from 112,000 households who lived entirely on animal husbandry, 480,000 people from 99,000 households were in a state of nomadism or lived in very simple residences built of wood. Residents would fill the gaps between the wooden houses with yak droppings.

To improve their living conditions, Sichuan initiated a plan in February 2009 that aims to build 1,409 settlements that will provide fixed residences for all the nomadic herdsmen in four years with an investment of 18 billion yuan ($2.9 billion).

"Construction of fixed residences made of bricks and cement for 91,969 households has been basically completed, and construction of 1,243 settlements and auxiliary public facilities has been completed," said Hao Yuenan, deputy chief of the information office of the Sichuan provincial government.

The settlements tend to catch the attention of visitors sitting in automobiles along the plateau inhabited by Tibetans as all the houses there are new and feature a unique Tibetan construction style.

Natso, who used to live in a simple residence, was one of the first beneficiaries of the program. He said he and all his fellow villagers liked their new homes because they had access to electricity, tap water and a toilet.

"Instead of living separately, we live together in fixed assets and can communicate," he said with a timid smile.

The magnitude-8.0 Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 wreaked havoc in Aba. After 13 provinces helped Aba with its reconstruction, roads became very good in the otherwise remote prefecture, resulting in the influx of tourists.

The number of tourists to the once faraway and inaccessible county of Ruo'ergai has risen from 400,000 to 1 million in recent years.

But while contributing to the local finance, tourists can be polluters.

In the county's Flower Lake, a fairyland-like scenic spot with its azure sky, all-encompassing white clouds, transparent water and lush aquatic plants on the wetland, we found empty bottles and dead fish beside a battery.

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