09/19/2009, 00.00
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No way out of China’s cancer villages

China’s massive industrial boom has poisoned land, water and entire villages. In Shangba, water is orange coloured. Cancer is wrecking havoc to residents’ health. With neither compensation nor medical treatment, they cannot leave, victims of progress that brought them no benefits.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The waters of the river that runs through Shangba (Guangdong) is orange coloured, so viscous that when the breeze blows it barely makes a ripple on the surface. The place is so heavily polluted that it has become one of China’s cancer villages, where the environment has been sacrificed on behalf of  China’s industrial growth.

He Shuncai has grown rice since he was born. Speaking to Reuters, he said, “all the fish [have] died, even chickens and ducks that drank from the river died. If you put your leg in the water, you'll get rashes and a terrible itch.”

Here cancer is striking many people, even young people, destroying their stomach, kidney, liver, and colon. Every year more people get sick and die.

Tests done in July show that water in Shangba contains excessive amounts of cadmium, a heavy metal and a known carcinogen, as well as zinc which in large quantities can damage the liver and lead to cancer.

Residents do not know where to go and have no other water to drink; their children play on the banks of the river with the orange flowing water; that same river runs near the Daboshan mine, which belongs to state-owned Guangdong Daboshan Mining Co. Ltd.

Water from the river irrigates local fields where rice and other grains are grown. Heavy metals have contaminated the soil, but residents have nothing else to eat but they grown on that land.

Every year, an estimated 460,000 people die prematurely in China from exposure to air and water pollution, according to a 2007 World Bank study. Death rates from cancer rose 19 percent in cities and 23 percent in rural areas in 2006 over 2005, about 85 per cent involving the digestive system.

The country is dotted with hundreds, perhaps thousands of such cancer villages, a direct consequence of the country’s industrial development.

The cost in health terms is staggering. According to media reports, the price tag of cancer treatment is almost 100 billion yuan a year (US$ 14.6 billion), accounting for 20 per cent of China's medical expenditure.

Villagers are not entitled to any compensation. Communist China does not have a comprehensive public healthcare system and more than 80 percent of farmers have no medical insurance at all.

The authorities refuse to acknowledge that pollution is the result of industrial or mining activity and do not hold companies liable.

Without compensation or a place to go to, China’s poor farmers are stuck in their home villages, forced to sell everything they own or take on huge debts.

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