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Repeated coal mine accidents thwart farmers' aspiration for riches
Updated: 2005-08-26 17:01

Chen Yuemin, 47, a farmer from Quannan County, east China's Jiangxi Province, might never expect that his quest for more money and a better life would be ended in such a tragic way.

Chen, who switched to work on a coal mine seven hours' bus ride away from his home just one year after having tilled the land for more than three decades, was one of the 123 miners who were killed on Aug. 7 in a flooding taking place at the Daxing Coal Mine of Xingning City, Guangdong Province.

Only four miners escaped the coal mine flooding tragedy that day.

Rescue workers have so far found remains of only six of the miners killed in the flood accident. Though rescue operation is still going on, but the hope for those miners trapped in the flooded coal mine tunnels to return alive has remained slim.

Together with Chen, a score of other farmers from Quannan also lost their lives in the coal mine flooding.

Guo Xiuying, Chen's wife, who has stayed a local hotel in Xingning waiting for more news about the beloved one after traveling all the way from their homeplace, said:"I will never letmy children to work on coal mines no matter how poor our family might be."

Chinese coal mines are notorious for its high death rate.

Information from the General Administration of Work Safety showed the country turned out about 2 billion tons of coal last year, with the loss of lives of 6,000 miners.

Coal mine accidents across the country killed 2,672 more miners in the first six months of the year, a rise of 33 percent from the same period last year. Most of the killed were farmers who just left the land to work on coal mines.

However, factors such as a strong desire to rid poverty and better pay following rising energy demand amidst fast economic development in China have turned dangerous coal mines into popularly sought-after sites to work with among transient workers.

Chen Fucai, 30, son of Chen Yuemin and Guo Xiuying, said: "Our family has only been allotted with 0.13 hectares of arable land. If we don't go to work on coal mines, what shall we rely on to send our children to school? So many people work on coal mines, I don't think my family is always that unlucky as it is this time."

Hanshou County has been one of the most important grain production bases in central China's Hunan Province. However, leaving the farmland and finding new jobs elsewhere have become a major way for local farmers to earn more money.

Liu Zhenke, secretary of the Putian Village Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Hanshou County, said there were no industries around the village, so one quarter of the village folks have gone out to find jobs with the help of relatives and friends.

Liu Aixiang, a 68-year-old woman from Putian Village,lost three relatives -- her eldest son, two grandsons -- in the fatal coal mine flooding happening early this month in Xingning in the neighboring Guangdong Province.

Li Yingjia, Liu's eldest son, who was deeply debt-ridden after having built a new brick house, had to lead his two sons to work at Daxing Coal Mine in Xingning City, in order to earn more money and pay off the debts.

As a matter of fact, the farmer-turned miners seldom received professional training in mining skills because of limitations of poor education, so the safety at the coal mines could not be guaranteed once accidents happen.

Luo Yun, head of the Beijing engineering technology college with China University of Geoscience, said as coal miners are poorly trained of professional mining skills, many coal mines havenot even been installed with necessary safety equipment, so the aftermath could be very serious when an accidents takes place.

Li Zhilun, Minister of Supervision, who is put in charge of investigation into cause for Daxing Coal Mine flooding disaster and the responsibilities therein, blamed corruption of local government officials for the Aug. 7 flooding disaster at Daxing Coal Mine which had been producing coal without obtaining necessary licenses in advance.

Huang Yi, a spokesman with the General Administration of Work Safety, urged local governments to step up administration and supervision over mining entities, as well as improve a sense of responsibility in order to prevent occurrence of similar coal mine disasters.

Some experts also suggest China should revise its existing laws to render heavier penalties to those who are held directly responsible for fatal coal mine disasters.

In accordance with the existing Chinese laws, the people who are held directly responsible for major accidents in workplaces will be meted out seven years of imprisonment at most if convicted.

Luo Yun, head of the Beijing engineering technology college with China University of Geoscience, said,"to coal mine owners, it requires high investment to take preventive measures against potential accidents, so they prefer risking danger and even if fatal accidents do take place, the penalties rendered thereafter are quite lenient."

Li Yizhong, General Administration of Production Safety, confirmed that relevant Chinese government departments had submitted reports to the State Council and the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) citing the loopholes in existing laws, demanding immediate revisions, and calling for rendition of heavier penalties including heavier fines to those held responsible.

"We hope with stricter laws and heavier fines, local governments and coal mining operators will pay more attention to production safety," said Luo Yun, "a way out for protection of more farmer-turned miners against repeated fatal accidents will be to change the mode of economic growth in China, to curb irrationalrise in energy demand by way of advocating a saving mentality."

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