The typical traveler imagines Inner Mongolia as an endless field of grassland, punctuated by mountains and the occasional yurt. In recent times however, swathes of the remote region have begun to look pocked and cratered like the surface of the moon.
Pictures of the Hulunbuir region that have been posted online show that like the lunar landscape, Inner Mongolia also has a dark side.
Soaring demand for minerals is threatening both the environment and locals. Mines are expanding, underground water is being over-extracted, and coal power plants as well as chemical plants are being established across the once-quiet area.
Now the grasslands are sinking, pollution is rising and desertification threatens the area's delicate ecological balance.
Industry vs environment
As locals raise complaints against polluting industries that drain their water resources, the government has announced that a plan to expand coal exploitation in the region will boost the number of factories and be a major source of local government revenue.
Locals are already worried about the effects of mining on their area, but officials have told them they shouldn't speak to the media. One herder, who spoke to the Global Times on condition of anonymity, said that she started herding in the Hulunbuir area in 1996. She said that she has lost more than 50 sheep and 16 cattle this year due to the expansion in mining. "Some of my animals died from pollution," she said. "Some by accident, either at drainage areas near the open mines, or they fell into the pits left behind by the mines."
The pits she refers to are those left by mine owners, who began prospecting throughout the area in the 1990s. Hundreds of small coal mines used to operate around the Baorixile township of Hulunbuir over 10 years ago, before bigger companies acquired them.
But when those companies left in early 2000, during a national regulation campaign, thousands of pits were left behind for residents to deal with, many still remaining to this day.
The area that is now sinking covers 2.24 square kilometers, according to reports from environmental NGO Greenpeace.
Local land resources authorities said they've been trying to fill the pits and have already invested 60 million yuan over the past 10 years in grassland restoration, according to a China Enterprise News report.
In addition to this, the Inner Mongolia regional government plans to introduce a regulation curbing industrial projects with high water consumption, and the illegal extraction of underground water, according to a China Chemical Industry News report in July.
The regional government also put in place a new regulation earlier this year, which stipulates that any one who conducts construction, mining or other energy exploration projects on grasslands should pay a grassland restoration fee.
In an effort to restore the area, the government announced in August last year that they would spend a total of 27.5 billion yuan ($4.35 billion) from 2011 to 2015 on grasslands environmental protection.
【1】 【2】 【3】
News we recommend