Shenzhen landslide a side effect of China’s urbanization

Xu Peng was one of the first rescuers sent to the Shenzhen landslide site which buried over 80 people and around 30 buildings on December 20. Before the landslide, he was a dump-truck driver for three years, witnessing the rise of the over 100-meter-high “man-made hill.”

“I had always been concerned that this dump site was already overloaded. Whenever the mud hill was watered to put out the dust in the past, it became very dangerous. No heavy machines dared to go up there,” Xu told, “The dump site was once closed for a short period after a worker died and a warning was issued, but resumed its operation very soon.”

There is still no official conclusion whether the dump was overloaded with construction waste and dirt, but data gathered by a reporter shows a difference between the damp’s original standard and Xu’s account.

Authorized in February 2014 by local authorities, the dump site, which was based in Hong’ao village and occupied over 300,000 square meters, was originally designed with a capacity of 4 million cubic meters of mucks and industrial wastes each year. However, Xu told that at least 1,000 dump trucks with a capacity of 20 cubic meters would come to the dump site to offload the mucks each day, which means 200,000 cubic meters of mucks would be piled here, far exceeding the capacity of 4 million cubic meters per year. 

“This is the most conservative calculation, and the facts may be worse,” Xu noted.

Fast growing dumps

About 10 kilometers east of Hong’ao dump site lies Shenzhen’s largest Bujiuwo dump site, which was suspended because of the landslide disaster. The dump site is located in a bush surrounded by six construction companies. Tens of dump trucks were seen parked nearby.

The rain and a tighter inspection prompted by the disaster led to the closure of the dump site, said Liu Yucheng, a worker of Jinkailong Corporation.

Started in 2008, the Bujiuwo dump site was originally used as a temporary site to collect the dirt and waste of construction of a new Shenzhen railway line. While the construction of the dump site was not opposed by the public in the beginning, people began to get angry after the establishment of Shenzhen North railway station which turned Bujiuwo into one of the five sub-centers of Shenzhen.

The dump site was supposed to be closed and recovered with virescence three years later, but in 2011 a second dump site on an area of 2.6 million square meters by Changlingpo reservoir, one of the 13 drinking water sources of Shenzhen, was started with the authorization of the Shenzhen environmental sanitation management office.

And despite public resentment, the construction of a third dump site with an area of around 880,000 square meters in the eco zone was proposed again.

Local residents began to send petitions to the government claiming that the construction of the Bujiuwo dump site was against the law, which must be stopped.

Whether the third dump site has been built is yet to be known, one of the local residents told

Shenzhen sprint

Both the Hong’ao dump site and the Bujiulong dump site, located on the outskirts of downtown Shenzhen, are used to collect construction wastes and mud of the city.

In 2000, Shenzhen, one of the first developed port cities in China since 1980s, saw its fastest economic growth and urbanization. However, the dirt and industrial waste produced by city construction did not become a major concern until 2007 when the city began its unprecedented infrastructure construction including the building of subway lines 2,3,4 and 5. At the same time, many sub-urban areas became sub-centers of Shenzhen, where migrants and factories began to flood in followed by dump, the unwelcome byproducts of urbanization.

The rising new districts included Guangming New District, Dapeng New District, Longhua New District and Pengshan New District, which in total produced 9.5 million cubic meters of mud and industrial waste in 2007, while the total storage capacity of the four dump sites was no more than 9 million cubic meters.

Gradually, the growing dumps raised concern and opposition from the local people, among whom Chen Kexin, a CPPCC member, together with seven other members raised the issue with the local government in February 2014, one month before the opening of the national “Two Sessions”. By the time, the mucks and industrial waste had reached up to 30 million cubic meters.

According to a report published by the Shenzhen Evening News in 2014, Shenzhen had planned 19 dump sites over the past few years, among which nine were running with the overloaded capacity of 50 million cubic meters in total. 

Besides such official dump sites, many illegal dump sites were set near residential areas and even agricultural drainage facilities.

Local authorities said the Hong’ao dump site was a temporary solution to that problem, according to the report.

The report, published last October, had warned that even the combined capacity of all the new dump sites of Shenzhen would not be enough to keep the city’s dirt and construction waste one year later.


(This article is translated and edited by Chunmei.)

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