China / People

River cleaners ensure navigation

By Luo Wangshu / Tan Yingzi (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-19 07:38

On the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, former fisherman pulls garbage from water

Once a fisherman on the Yangtze River, Xiong Renjian is now employed as river cleaner, one of the many contractors hired to scoop garbage and storm debris from the water to make it more scenic and easier to navigate.

Xiong, 53, with a tanned face and strong arms from years of fishing, works with his wife, Qin Xinming. Like many of the river cleaners, they function as a team.

Xiong steers the boat, while Qin uses a 2-meter-long pole, weighing 2 kg, to jerk garbage out of water and throw it to the back of the skiff.

"Unlike cleaning the streets, cleaning the river requires skill," said Xiong, a native of Wanzhou, a northeastern district of Chongqing municipality that abuts the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. "When we clean and collect garbage, we must go with the water, not against it."

Since the Three Gorges Dam was built, the river's water level rises in winter and drops in summer, the opposite of the natural river. Garbage from residents along the river or littering tourists, along with the detritus of seasonal storms, accumulates on the surface, creating unpleasant scenery and difficult navigation for ships. The garbage can even affect the production of electricity at the dam.

Liu Gang, a government official who leads the river cleaning team in Wanzhou, said the project is equipped with machines and boats to help the cleaners. The government started to hire river cleaners in 2003, including experienced fishing crews.

The cleaning contractors are needed during busy seasons, especially summer. In Wanzhou, up to 60 river cleaners were hired during the busiest days last year. In winter, about 20 cleaners are needed to maintain the daily upkeep.

The first few years after the dam was built, there was a lot of garbage, Xiong said. Cleaners worked together, dismantling giant piles of trash, little by little. "I have seen more than 10 people standing on the accumulated garbage on the river. It was like a house built on the water," Xiong said. "The machine could carry the heavy stuff and we could do the rest of the cleaning."

In the past two years, the amount of garbage has decreased, said Xiong, who has seen many unusual things in the water, including a corpse. Nothing surprises him now.

The couple earns 50,000 yuan ($8,333) to 70,000 yuan a year as river cleaners, depending on the number of days they work. Qin has decorated the boat, adding a bed, a TV and some simple kitchen items.

"We spend more than eight hours a day on the boat. I want to make it more comfortable," she said.

The couple has a 22 year-old daughter who is a senior student in college and has an internship at a local middle school. Although he loves the river, Xiong wants his daughter to earn a living away from the water. "In winter, it is very foggy, wet and cold. In summer, it burns," he said.

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 River cleaners ensure navigation

Qin Xinming collects garbage from the Yangtze River on a boat.Luo Wangshu / China Daily

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