filling the gaps

July 20th, 2008

京报网’s Ma Nan reports on a four-year plan starting next year to fill the gaps in basic infrastructure in Beijing’s rural areas:

从明年起,利用4年时间,本市将对所有郊区村庄的安全饮水、街坊路硬化、垃圾处理、厕所改造、污水处置这“五项”基础设施建设填平补齐,缺什么就补什么。昨天,市人大常委会副主任赵凤山到通州区视察了乡村基础设施建设情况。

Starting from next year, over a period of four years, the municipality will level up and polish the “five items” of basic infrastructure- the safety of drinking water, paving of roads, handling of rubbish, renovation of toilets and disposal of sewage- in all suburban villages, filling whatever gaps there are. Yesterday, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the Municipal People’s Congress Zhao Fengshan went to Tongzhou District to inspect the condition of basic infrastructure in villages.

Well, in all the years I’ve been going to and from Yanqing, I’ve seen some pretty big improvements. Remember, these comments are based off my experience of my in-laws’ village only: Toilets, for example, have gone from short drops (which get ever shorter in the winter when it’s too cold for anything to rot) of varying degrees of crude construction- or in some of the lesser-developed courtyards of the village, a southwest corner of the courtyard in which, once you were out of sight, or at the very least the lower portion of your body was out of sight (occasionally uncomfortable for me, having much longer legs than most out there), you were very, very careful of where you stepped- to reasonably decent porcelain squatters emptying into a basic septic tank and flushed using a footpump fed by a cistern set in the ground next to the squatter. The only two problems I can see with that system are that 1: for a large portion of the year you’re still flushing by tipping a bucket down the squatter, because there’s no point filling the cistern when it’s only going to freeze in half an hour; and 2: there’s still a huge reserve of methane from the rotting organic matter that is sitting untapped. Also, and on a more comfortable topic, although I’m sure I could find unpaved lanes and paths out the back of the village, most of the roads and lanes, including the main lanes through the fields, are now paved. The tap water has always been drinkable, although it does have a rather high mineral content and can cause discomfort of the intestinal variety for those not used to it. I’ve noticed plastic or rubber hoses running direct to the roots of trees in the orchards- a vast improvement over older forms of irrigation. Even a new public square/park opened up, and an old stinky water pit (I could never figure out what it was for, but the water was fetid beyond belief, making the signs painted on neighbouring walls banning fishing and swimming a pretty good definition of “superfluous”) was ripped out, filled in, and paved over, creating another public square which I have seen put to good use by a visiting drumming group. Not only that, but park benches and flower planters have been installed along some of the bigger village streets. These are all small things taken individually, but they do represent a pretty big improvement in the quality of life, I reckon. I guess I could also point out that we’ve had broadband internet that is faster and more reliable than what I “enjoy” here at BeiGongDa, cable TV and even satellite TV (whose selection of international channels has waxed and waned with the political climate- for the last few months its been all domestic plus CCTV-4, CCTV-9, CCTV-E and CCTV-F). There are, however, still areas that could be improved. Home heating would be one, as is putting all that organic waste to good use producing methane for cooking, thereby cutting down the amount of coal and straw used- that would improve air quality and therefore local residents’ respiratory health drastically. But looking at those “five items”, handling of rubbish stands out. Unfortunately we’re still stuck with the old-fashioned 垃圾堆 (rubbish heap).

乡村基础设施是农村经济社会发展和农民生产生活的重要物质基础,近年来,本市在乡村基础设施建设方面实施了一系列惠民举措。

The basic infrastructure of villages is an important material base of rural economy and society and rural peoples’ production and life, and in recent years the municipality has carried out a series of moves in the field of basic rural infrastructure to benefit the people.

It then goes in to details that I don’t think are all that necessary- details of the area covered by new, water-saving irrigation systems and by how much that will be extended, for example. But I do like the plan to fill in the gaps in rural infrastructure- I’m reading this as taking each village as it is and building the things it still lacks, which is only sensible- and closing the gap with the city, which can only be a good thing. I also like the prominent mention given to solar power generation. It’s been bugging me for years now- if every south-facing roof in northern and western China were covered in photovoltaic cells, how much power would be generated? How much coal saved? How much cleaner the air?

Oh well, enough ranting for now. I’ll leave it by saying that what I’ve seen over the years in one village in the mountains in Beijing Municipality’s northwestern corner gives me hope that this article really is for real and that Beijing’s rural areas really are on the way up.

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