DECEMBER 30TH 2015
SHENZHEN LANDSLIDE STIRS CONCERNS OVER SIMILAR INCIDENTS
The deadly landslide that buried part of the city of Shenzhen (Guangdong province, south China) beneath a layer of red mud on Monday may be a hinting at something unprecedented, yet foreseeable – dangerous consequences of China’s rapid urban explosion.
The destruction of 94 acres of the Guangming industrial area, which just a few decades ago was home to rice fields was sudden but a long time in coming. Even as the the neighbourhoods and factories were being built, the mountain of refuse that would destroy it all was piling up. Professor Dave Petley from the University of East Anglia, said the incident in Shenzhen was the first time he had heard of a slide of construction waste. In a vast majority of cases, this type of accident can be traced back to the waste material extracted as a result of mining activity.
The authorities will now be trying to identify, whether this was a one-off incident, or it is a warning of more such incidents to come. Although Shenzhen landslide could set a dangerous new precedent in China, on the other hand it fits a familiar pattern of landslide catastrophes that have become almost endemic to a group of developing countries where progress often trumps safety.
Asia is experiencing the most rapid proliferation of urban development in history. The great sprawl of China’s cities has seen the influx of 500 million new people in the past three decades. Infrastructure is being thrown up with unmatched ferocity and deadly landslides are a direct result. According to Dr. Farrokh Nadim (Norwegian Geotechnical Institute) the biggest threat of landslide in many Asian countries is human activity. Dr. Nadim warns that in a newly developed areas with high tempo of the construction, it is almost impossible to control adherence to safety which can eventually lead to such landslides as the one in Shenzhen.
Cause to the accidents similar to the one in Shenzhen is not necessarily the fact that there is not enough qualified engineering experts in China. Dr. Nadim states that China has more landslide experts that the entire European Union altogether, but the problem is elsewhere.
In the rush for rapid development, corners get cut and too many people (be it officials of experts) look the other way. Local reporters claim the government in Shenzhen was acquainted with the problematic situation for years and banned builders from dumping waste on the mountain that started moving on Monday morning. But the official prohibitions were ignored. There are reports of trucks dumping construction waste on the site just last week.
Sources: «How a Hill of Dirt and Debris Collapsed in a Landslide in Shenzhen» NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/21/world/asia/shenzhen-landslide-maps-photos.html?_r=0
«Is the Shenzhen landslide the first of many more?» The Guardian, www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/23/shenzhen-landslide-china-the-first-of-many-more
«Before Shenzhen Landslide, Many Saw Warning Signs as Debris Swelled» NY Times, www.nytimes.com/2015/12/23/world/asia/landslide-shenzhen-china.html
Annex Asia Publishing
Image: International Business Times
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