Saturday, August 23, 2008; A08
By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Water, Coal Are Diverted for Beijing Games
ZHENGJIAZHUANG VILLAGE, China -- Li Zengxia's fish are dead and his crops are dying. The stream that was once his lifeline is gone, diverted 155 miles to Beijing to create a picture-perfect green setting for the 2008 Summer Games.
Li and other villagers here are now nearly destitute, but he said he remains proud to have done his part to make the Olympics a success.
"This is a small thing for individuals," Li explained. "We should make contributions to the country. I understand -- we are a socialist family."
Beijing's gleaming new sports stadiums, efficient subway lines and legions of smiling volunteers are a testament to the Communist Party's power to mobilize a country of 1.3 billion people. But to do so, the party has had to draw vast resources from faraway towns and villages, where millions of ordinary citizens such as Li are now suffering from water shortages, blackouts and business losses brought about because of the Games.
Other countries that previously hosted the Olympics made sacrifices of their own, particularly financially. But the actions that China has taken highlight just how far it is willing to go -- and just how much its people are willing to endure -- for the sake of an event that has the rest of the world watching.
Here in Hebei province, almost 80 billion gallons of emergency water is being sent to the capital through a series of canals hastily built over the past few months. The construction has displaced farmers, leaving some patches of land so parched that it's difficult for them to grow anything.
Shanxi province, a major coal-producing region, can't even get permission to use the coal it needs. Instead, the resources are being earmarked for Beijing, exacerbating power shortages and resulting in massive blackouts in rural areas.
And at the Tianjin port southeast of Beijing, usually one of the busiest in the country, empty ships wait for deliveries from suppliers whose trucks have been held up by roadblocks or whose factories have been closed out of concerns about pollution. Exporters say they are losing money as a result.
With factories shut down, armies of migrant workers who rely on construction and other menial jobs are being sent home for the month without pay.
During a Politburo meeting this summer, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao said all Chinese must do their part to ensure that the Games are of a "high standard." The leaders emphasized how important it was for Beijing to be a welcome host, despite any difficulties Chinese might face in the process.
Not everyone is as happy as Li to make sacrifices.
While few are willing to publicly criticize the Olympics, outrage has spread online among the anonymous.
I just want ask this one question: Are farmers not people?" a resident of the coastal province of Shandong wrote on one online message board, expressing frustration over the blackouts in his area. "We are in the dark, sweating all over.
"A number of farmers are not big earners in income," the writer continued. "They can not spend money to see Beijing Olympics. . . . From within the heart it is not fair."
Others say they are torn between their duty to the state and their individual losses.
Zhang Yu, the general manager of a trading company in Tianjin, said his business is down by 30 percent. Security concerns during the Games led authorities to prohibit the export of batteries and chemical products, he said; it's hard to get new supplies because factories are closed.
"Right now, the only thing we can do is to bear it. There isn't a better solution. . . . Of course I'm unhappy; I can't make any money," Zhang said.
The village of Zhengjiazhuang is one of the many areas that is being asked to make sacrifices for the Olympics.
Water shortages in this village, population 2,500, started before the run-up to the Games. Shortly after 2002, the central government approved a water diversion project aimed at relieving shortages in Beijing and other parts of the arid north by moving water from the Yangtze, the country's longest river.
Such projects have caused a rift between Beijing and neighboring provinces, including Hebei and Shaanxi. Local officials warned of social upheaval and environmental consequences. But the central government proceeded anyway.
Cheng Yu, 22, a teacher, recalled the water in the streams and canals near her home being more than six feet deep when she was a child. She used to go swimming, and the farmers used the water from a nearby reservoir in the mountains to irrigate their crops. By 2005, she said, there were puddles where the waterways once flowed.
But until recently, the situation wasn't as dire as it is now. Two months ago, local authorities cut off access to the mountain reservoir, explaining the water was being saved for the Olympics. "People say you live by the mountain and you live off the mountain; if you live by the water, you live off the water," said Fu Xiulan, 25, a housewife. "We live by both the mountain and the water, but we cannot use either."
With the water gone, many of Zhengjiazhuang's young workers had no choice but to leave the village to seek opportunities in Beijing and other big cities.
Cheng Linpeng, 34, formerly a fish farmer, found a job at a construction company in the capital, working on a residential building. But that project was shut down in July because of worries about dust and air pollution ahead of the Games.
"Because of the Olympics, we are not allowed to do our jobs anymore. The whole place was shut down, and we don't know when we'll be able to go back," Cheng said.
He hasn't been able to find a job since, and he has already burned through most of his savings.
Nonetheless, he said, the Olympics have been a welcome distraction. Each night, he turns on the television set and watches the latest event, usually basketball. He said he's excited China is doing so well but doesn't know anyone who is going to the Games. When asked if he thought about going, he looked surprised.
"Would we be allowed?" Cheng asked, explaining that migrant workers are considered second-class citizens in Beijing. "The place is not so big, and it wouldn't be able to hold everyone who wants to come. We are not qualified."
Researchers Wu Meng and Crissie Ding contributed to this report.