Friday, November 25, 2005


The city of Harbin, in northeastern China (see map) has no water. It now appears that a chemical spill at the local oil refinery poured 100 tons of benzene into the Songhua River. Why is this any different than any other industrial accident? As federal agents often say in bad Hollywood movies: "Its the cover-up that gets you!"
  • The BBC reports on the cover-up here.
    The water crisis in Harbin involves a cluster of difficult issues for China - poor governance, industrial accidents and, perhaps most crucially, official determination to control information.

  • To see how the information about the crisis leaked out over time, EastSouthWestNorth (a blogger who translates Chinese news sources into English) has been following the story since the beginning. He is looked to in the blogosphere when stuff like this happens because he gets the news first. From his earliest report:
    What is known is that the water supply system will be shut down for approximately four days as of noon, November 22. This has caused panic buying of bottled water at supermarkets. What happened here? The official explanation was that it was routine maintenance [of the water system].

  • The Financial Times writes about the effect of the spill on nearby businesses. Anheuser-Busch is even providing the locals with free drinks... but alas it is just water.

  • The Peking Duck is also watching the crisis. More often than not the commenters are as interesting as the news stories at PKD because they are long-time China watchers, an advantage journalists rarely have.

As if that wasn't enough trouble for one day: Another chemical plant has exploded and is polluting the Yangtze River. The Sydney Morning Herald has the story.

Let's all take a moment this holiday to think of the people of Harbin and pray (if you do that) for those people. If nothing else cross your fingers that these people will one day get a government who cares enough about them to be honest when there is an enormous chemical slick heading their way.

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