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Far from home in China: conversations with migrant workers searching for opportunities in urban centers

Joe Qian's picture
Quality Control Inspector Jiang Peng walks on scaffolding along the foundation of the water treatment facility.

While traveling through China recently, I had an opportunity to visit the Shanghai Urban Environment project in the emergent suburban district of Qingpu and spoke to a number of workers responsible for the implementation and completion of the project.

As with many infrastructure and urban development projects in China, the speed and magnitude can be astonishing, with hundreds of employees working around the clock to ensure timely completion. Work on the facility runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with construction workers from all over China contracted to work and live onsite until its completion in 2011. Once finished, it will improve water service, coverage, and waste water management in the region which will be essential for sustaining the increasing population and living standards.

Growing number of families in China making use of solar energy

Joe Qian's picture
Rows of solar collectors line the roofs of many buildings in China.

Driving through Jiangsu and Anhui provinces adjacent to Shanghai, China, last month, I was struck. Not by the sheer number of people and vehicles, or by the seemingly endless number of new buildings under construction with their distinct bamboo scaffolding, but by what was on top of those roofs: continuous rows of solar collectors.

China’s increasing emphasis on renewable energy on a large-scale level can be seen by wind farms in Inner Mongolia and several other green World Bank projects in the country. However, the most pervasive example for the public and individuals has been the explosion of the use of solar water heaters.

Mongolia's growing shantytowns: the cold and toxic ger districts

David Lawrence's picture

 

Children breathe thick, toxic smog from thousands of stoves in Ulaanbaatar's ger districts, which are home to 60 percent of the city's population.
There’s no capital city anywhere in the world with a housing problem like Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Imagine a city of one million people. Then imagine 60 percent of them living in settlements without water, sanitation or basic infrastructure, often in traditional Mongolian felt tents, known as gers. Then imagine these people relying on wood- or coal-burning stoves for cooking and heating, with fuel costs eating up 40 percent of their income. Then imagine the discomfort of having to get up in the middle of the night when it’s -35 degrees Celsius to go to the bathroom – outdoors.

Worst of all, imagine you and your children breathing the thick, toxic smog from thousands of stoves 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unfortunately, this is not imagination, this is the real situation for over a half million people living in the ger districts of the capital. Not a pretty picture.

Call for a green China: permanent improvement, with room for more

David Dollar's picture

Children perform during "Call for Green China" – a unique cultural tour to raise awareness about pressing environmental issues in China and possible solutions.
The old people in the park are saying that this was the best April in 20-plus years in terms of air quality here in Beijing. There has been permanent improvement based on some of the changes made for the Olympics: some factories relocated to less populous areas, restrictions on private car use, improved public transportation as an alternative.

Other factors are more long term – the sandstorms common when I lived here in 1986 are largely gone, owing to successful re-greening efforts west of here. There was a frenzied pace of construction as modern Beijing was being built, which has naturally slowed down – construction dust was a key part of air pollution here.

There is more room for improvement, but the progress was notable during a lovely April. One key issue going forward will be to continue to control private vehicle use.

Cambodia's Relative Peace Brings the Challenges of Growth

Stéphane Guimbert's picture

Workers scale one of the skyscrapers under construction in Cambodia.
Last Sunday, more than 8 millions Cambodians were called to vote. This is already the fourth general elections since the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement. Many – including me before I moved to our Phnom Penh office last summer – still connect Cambodia first to what we learned in history classes. The splendor of the Angkor civilization and the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime probably come on top of the list. And there is some truth to that. Angkor Wat and its neighboring temples remain magnificent. The Khmer Rouge regime has left deep stigma for the people and for the society. The Khmer Rouge tribunal is attracting a lot of international attention as well. Most landmine fields have been cleared, although there remain some in more remote areas.

But, for all this, this connection more and more misses a key fact: over the last couple of years, Cambodia has achieved a relative peace that has enabled dramatic social and economic change.