Death in the Chinese coal mines

Asian Labour News has a poignant, painful-to-read but beautifully written post about a recent explosion that killed at least 28 coal miners, as well as one of the men detonating the explosives in Shanxi Province.

Toward the end of his moving description, Stephen offers some background on the mines, and why workers enter them despite the obvious dangers.

Lingshi County has a population of around 240,000. Coal is the backbone of the economy, and accounts for about 70% of revenue. Coal dust is pervasive; it hangs in the air and makes breathing difficult. The ice on the street is black. But despite being dirty, there are many rich people in the area. The author notices many private cars on the street – Toyotas and BMWs. And who owns these cars? Overwhelmingly they’re owned by coal bosses. And no wonder. Over the last few years the price of coal has risen: a ton can fetch between 150 to 270 yuan. A small mine can extract 100 tons a day, but the cost of extraction, including workers’ wages, is only about 38 yuan per ton (a profit of between 112 to 232 yuan per ton).

The riches, however, have come at a price to the environment (both ecological and social). All those years of mining have destroyed the region’s ecology. An inch of coal dust and ash covers the ground. As a truck passes, the dust rising from the wheels blocks the sky. A wind whips along the village street and covers the entire area in a black mist that cuts visibility to less than 10 metres. The farm land in the area is poor: wheat and corn yields are low. If a family wants to send it’s child to school or cover other expenses there is no option but to work in the mines. Many villagers are willing to take risks for money. On the surface, it’s possible to say that the coal mines have provided a livelihood. But the lack of safety equipment in small mines causes the workers anxiety and alarm. Some families have lost all their boys and men to the mines.

These stories are wrenching, and the world is a better place with people like Stephen who are willing to take the time and the effort to tell them. The obvious question is, is anybody listening?

The Discussion: One Comment

OT, but not really: A cockle-picker’s story.

February 20, 2004 @ 9:13 pm | Comment

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