China’s villages are sinking into the ground, thanks to decades of overmining of coal.
In the northern Shanxi province of China, villages like Helin in the Shanxi province, are fighting a losing battle as the ground continues to crumble beneath them in a bid to fill up the sinkholes caused by the extraction of coal.
Over 100 pits of Henlin have turned to veritable ghost towns as hundreds of thousands of residents at risk of being buried in the brittle slopes of mines, evacuated the village.
“We haven't been told to leave yet, but when the government gives us the order, we'll be happy to go,” said Wang Junqi, who lives in a one-room tenement with his family in Helin. “It isn't safe here and the people who have a bit of money have already gone. It's scary, but what can we do?”
Shanxi province alone plans to move 655,000 residents by the end of 2017 from precarious mining regions and the cost of relocation is expected to be 15.8 billion yuan ($2.37 billion). The Shanxi government calculated the coal mining itself has cost the province 77 billion yuan ($11.6 billion) in “environmental economic losses.”
A notice board at an abandoned Communist Party building in a nearby desolate village lists 19 geological “disaster zones,” which have spread across 23 villages. It also lists 55 landslides, 950 cracks in the ground and 808 incidents of mine subsidence in just an area of 13.25 kilometers (5 sq. miles).
As much as 10,000 square kilometers of land, roughly the size of Gambia in Africa, has been badly affected by coal mining, according to estimates.
China’s land ministry said it would have to spend 75 billion yuan ($11.27 billion) over the next five years to treat mining waste and restore land countrywide.