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Residents' homes sink and swim
By Bao Xinyan (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-14 00:11

A greater number of people could be forced to evacuate from their hometowns in East China's Jiangsu Province if the land there sinks further or becomes even more submerged, experts have warned.

According to Yin Shilin, senior engineer at the Suzhou Seismology Bureau, more than 30 families have already been evacuated from the city in Huangdai County. Suzhou is one of the province's biggest cities.

Drawing substantial amounts of underground water has caused the ground to sink -- threatening the safety of residents in several parts of the province, especially Suzhou, Wuxi and Changzhou.

Shanghai and part of its neighbouring Zhejiang Province are also facing the same problem.
"It is because the ground in the county is subsiding continuously. It has even become lower than the surrounding water tables, which causes flooding," Yin said.

Lu Aji lives in the county's Yuejin Village. When he built his house in 1988, the ground sill was almost two metres higher than the surrounding water table.

His house has been sinking and is now about half a metre below the water table.

In order to stop their homes from being submerged, residents have to halt rivers outside the village from flowing into the village's waterways, and then drain water from the waterways.

According to the village's Party secretary, who would only reveal his name as Zhou, water is drained every two days on average. But when the rain comes, it is carried out continuously.

Every year, the drainage programme costs the village about 70,000 yuan (US$8,430).

Counties and villages in the Xiangcheng District of Suzhou are suffering the most. Tens of thousands of villagers have lived there from generation to generation.

Yin said a river used to pass through the area about 40,000 years ago, with a width of 1 to 3 kilometres and a length of about 90 kilometres.

It disappeared over time due to a buildup of soil and stones, but it has since started to sink.
In the mid-1980s, some locals discovered that the ground was subsiding more quickly compared with other districts.

At the end of 1997, the Suzhou Seismology Bureau started a formal survey of the earth in some villages.

The staff was surprised to find that the ancient river was subsiding at a tremendous rate of more than 20 centimetres per year.

"Up to now, the most serious area is one-and-a-half metres lower than in 1997," said Yin. "And the average speed of subsidence is more than 10 centimetres per year."

Other districts and cities in the southern part of Jiangsu Province are also experiencing the same problem.

"If people continue to pump underground water, the problem will not stop," Yin said.

"Although some measures have already been taken to solve the problem, the most effective way is still to stop the pumping of underground water."

Fortunately, the provincial government has already issued rules to control and forbid pumping.
"Since the end of last year, factories and individuals have not been allowed to draw on underground water in city areas," Yin said.

"And the rule will be enforced for county areas at the end of 2005."

He said the situation would improve greatly under the directive.

Local governments have also been undertaking other programmes to prevent further degradation.

"For example, when building the high-tech zone in the west of Suzhou and the industrial zone in the east, soil was used to raise both of the areas by more than 1 metre," Yin added.

Statistics show that in the 1930s, there were only two wells which were more than 150 metres deep in Suzhou, while in the 1990s, there were more than 300 deep wells.

And the amount of water pumped from the water table has grown from 500 tons per day to 120,000 tons per day.

"It is mainly because since the middle of the 1980s, more and more manufacturing plants have been built in the area, which has had a huge impact on water levels," Yin explained.

"Therefore, protecting the environment will go hand-in-hand to solving the ground subsidence problem."

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