The toll taken by industrialization on the world’s ecosystems is having huge repercussions on Chinese citizens. Climate change has made some areas of China unsustainable for living, resulting in the displacement of 329,000 people, whom are labelled “ecological immigrants” by the Chinese government.
In response, government officials have had to take swift action, building over 160 villages to house these displaced citizens. These recently displaced Chinese citizens actually represent the fifth wave of immigration resulting from environmental causes.
The majority of these ecological immigrants have origins in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which is comprised mostly of a vast desert that is situated on what once was the ancient Silk Road. As the climate has changed, living conditions in the desert have grown more severe.
These difficult living conditions have prompted the Chinese government to relocate the area’s former residents into new villages, making these citizens ecological immigrants in the largest ongoing environmental migration project in the world.
The Ningxia Hui Region is becoming largely uninhabitable due to the degradation of the desert. Furthermore, the region traditionally has had sparse water resources. Water supplies in the area are becoming increasingly limited due to a long-standing drought, which has hit the northern region the hardest.
With weather patterns and ecological conditions continuing to worsen, the Chinese government is faced with a wide array of environmental difficulties. Even bigger stumbling blocks for China’s government have emerged with the complications of moving mass numbers of people from their homes into unfamiliar villages.
One of the biggest objections that has arisen due to this mass resettlement is difficulty affording “resettlement fees,” which total approximately $2,100. In exchange for the fee, farming families were promised pots of land to cultivate in order to compensate for the loss of land and animals they sustained from the forced move.
However, the small leased farm plots have proved largely disappointing to the China’s ecological immigrants. In order to obtain needed funds, farmers who did receive plots were forced to lease them to agricultural companies.
This has left these families with minimal space in which to grow their own crops. While compliance has yielded few rewards for ecological immigrants, punishment mandated by the Chinese government has been the price of opposition to the resettlement plans. For instance, members of the Yejiahe village who refused to vacate their homes and resettle faced retribution at the hands of the Chinese government.
Chinese officials demolished the homes of the families who left the village and refused to aid in the renovation for the residents who remained. Additionally, government officials are restricting access to important resources by denying residents who remained the use of water pipelines and cutting off any funds that once were used as subsidies to raise cattle and sheep.
Although the goal of the government’s actions was to help its citizens escape the desert, some relocation settlements remain in the same topography.
However, these new areas for settlement in the desert provide their own advantages. These areas have a closer proximity to China’s major highways as well as the Yellow River, a critical water source that played a role in the birth of the Chinese nation.
Government officials from the Ningxia area are emphasizing other benefits resulting from the mass relocation. It is hoped that the move will help to alleviate poverty in the region. However, some critics see this line of reasoning as a fallacy. Historically, Ningxia’s population has been comprised largely of Hui Muslims, an ethnic minority.
Thus, some critics believe that China’s relocation efforts are an unnecessary ploy for maintaining control over the minority population. These same critics argue that the wide-scale environmental issues touted by the Chinese government are only a means to justify the mass relocation of this minority.
Indeed, the data supplied pertaining to the environmental condition of the desert areas comes solely from the Chinese government and its related institutions under its control. A recent estimate by the Chinese Academy of Science working in conjunction with the Ministry of Land and Resources stated that the desert region was only viable for a population of 1.3 million people.
However, the continued presence of 2.3 million in the area calls into question the accuracy of these studies. Others see the legitimacy behind the mass relocations. Recent years have brought diminishing levels of rainfall as well as mass deforestation by villages.
The government is working to improve these damaged lands by converting these now vacant spaces into forest and pasture land in order to increase animal and plant populations.
While efforts to increase the availability of natural resources are being made, even the new migrant villages in the Ningxia region are faced with limited access. Some compare the atmosphere in these new villages to refugee camps, where ecological immigrants face hard labor in order to sustain themselves on land that is far from familiar and lacking in fertility.
China’s setbacks may be setting a precedent in years to come. The world population continues to swell, which will likely lead to increased problems. Climate change is increasing the probability that more and more people will become displaced as more land becomes increasingly uninhabitable.