[Marxism] The economics of coal mining disasters in China
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Wed Dec 1 07:46:20 MST 2004
LA Times, December 1, 2004
China Mine Explosion Death Toll Rises to 166
By Mark Magnier, Times Staff Writer
MIAOWANZHEN, China — Zhao Yanmei, 24, sobbed uncontrollably. Gasping for
air, the baby-faced mother tried to make sense of it all: Why did it
have to be her husband? Why was he on the night shift again? Why was she
faced with raising their 3-year-old son without a father?
On Sunday, a gas explosion swept through Chenjiashan mine here in
Shaanxi province, about 450 miles southwest of Beijing. This morning,
the official New China News Agency confirmed that 103 miners who were
trapped as deep as five miles underground were dead, including Zhao's
32-year-old husband, Ding Aituan.
With 63 confirmed dead earlier, the toll of 166 made this China's worst
mining disaster in four years.
Since the blast, Zhao regularly had gone to the area in front of the
state-owned mine complex where hundreds of people gathered in clusters
to talk quietly, comfort one another and wait for word about missing
She kept hope as long as she could. But she was also realistic.
Ambulances that raced by Sunday and Monday sat idly by the dusty
roadside Tuesday. China's record on rescuing trapped miners didn't leave
much room for optimism.
The country's economy is booming. But much of that prosperity is being
built on the backs of millions like Ding. Behind the seemingly endless
supply of consumer goods arriving on Western shelves at two-for-one
prices are people struggling on survival wages under bleak conditions to
produce the cheap energy Chinese factories need.
China, which produces 35% of the world's coal, accounts for 80% of coal
mining fatalities, according to government figures — 4,153 deaths were
reported in the first nine months of 2004. Experts say corruption, poor
oversight and the fact that it's often cheaper to pay off a death claim
than invest in safety equipment contribute to the country's dubious record.
"China needs to do a better job reflecting the real value of life," said
Hu Xingdou, economics professor with Beijing Science and Technology
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