2018-08-13 14:57:09

When villagers in northwestern China moved into new homes built as part of the government’s national poverty alleviation plan, they hoped to find safe havens in an area ravaged by natural disasters. Then the walls began to crack.

Nearly 50 households in Dingxi, a prefectural-level city in Gansu province, have complained of shoddy construction on their newly built homes, according to The Beijing News. The Dingxi government said on Thursday that it would conduct a thorough inspection of the houses and relocate residents as needed.

“As soon as the houses were completed, township and village officials urged us to move in because higher-ranking officials were coming for inspections,” Kang Xueqing, one of the residents, told The Beijing News, adding that the villagers were reluctant to move due to concerns about shaky foundations.

The relocation was part of a government-sponsored poverty alleviation effort that aims to lift 30 million people out of poverty by 2020. The six counties under Dingxi’s administration are among the poorest in the country: While the average disposable income for rural residents nationwide was 13,432 yuan ($1,950) in 2017, the figure was just half that for Dingxi. The area’s employment prospects are so bleak that locals have moved in droves to neighboring Xinjiang, where policies aimed at attracting residents to the sparsely populated region provide newcomers with land and fully furnished homes.

In 2009, Dingxi received a 1.1 million-yuan grant from the central government to relocate households that were in danger of landslides. Every affected household was required to pitch in 15,000 yuan for homes being constructed on a slope that had been bulldozed flat. The project was completed in 2012, and a majority of the people affected had moved into their new homes by 2014.

In a city that’s prone to earthquakes — a magnitude 6.6 quake in 2013 killed 95 people and destroyed 120,000 homes — building stronger structures is a life-or-death matter, but villagers say the warning signs were visible right away, according to the news report. Within a year of moving in, residents saw cracks in the walls and some of the houses began to lean to one side. The conditions in some homes were so bad that villagers began supporting the walls with logs — and some rooms collapsed completely.

“The houses were built next to a ditch,” said Dingxi resident Kang. “There is no way to fix this apart from tearing them down entirely and rebuilding them.”

Gong Ming, the Party secretary of Xinji, the township administered by Dingxi where the homes were built, told The Beijing News that the local discipline authority investigated the case after residents reported the problems, and that the guilty parties had been held accountable. “We have designated this place as having lingering problems,” Gong said. “We will warn people if we find any signs of disaster.”

On Saturday, a commentary published by state-run newspaper Guangming Daily slammed the Dingxi government for the substandard construction of homes for people who are already grappling with poverty. “In a region with limited resources, the precious poverty alleviation fund should be put to the best use possible so that nothing goes to waste,” the commentary said. “Such serious substandard construction in this area makes the people targeted by the poverty relief program even poorer — and this in particular makes one’s heart bleed.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A villager points to a house whose cracked walls are supported by tree trunks in Dingxi, Gansu province, August 2018. Chen Jie for Sixth Tone)