China’s floodplain farmers build new lives in town

JINAN, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) — Looking back, it seems to Zhang Bo that his father spent his whole life building houses.

“Every summer, my father would worry that our roof would leak and the flood would hit the village at night,” said Zhang, Party chief of Caolou Village, which sits next to the Yellow River, in Guide Subdistrict in Jinan, capital of east China’s Shandong Province.

For farmers like Zhang, the Yellow River, dubbed the Mother River of China, has long nourished the land, but it has also brought floods that have damaged their houses.

“My father has built four houses during his life, after the old ones were damaged by floodwater,” Zhang said.

Zhang’s hometown is located in the floodplain area between the main channel and high levees. In Shandong, more than 600,000 people live in the floodplain of the Yellow River, which covers an area of about 1,700 square km.

Data from the Yellow River conservancy authorities show that the river’s floodplain in Shandong has suffered 48 floods since 1950, affecting 12,300 villages and approximately 6.65 million residents. The area of flooded farmland totals nearly 787,300 hectares.

Many on the floodplains have spent heavily on rebuilding their houses and have had to borrow money, which has become their fundamental cause of poverty. To make matters worse, as soon as their debts are cleared, the river floods again.

In order to protect the local residents from flooding and lift them out of poverty, a relocation-and-reconstruction plan was launched in August 2017, to be completed by 2020. It involved the relocation of people from the floodplains of the Yellow River in Shandong, including the cities of Jinan, Zibo, Dongying, Jining, Tai’an, Binzhou and Heze, and the construction of new houses in safer locations.

Wang Xianlun, 77, who previously lived in Zhuzhong Village in Guide Subdistrict, is among the relocated residents. A year ago, he settled in Chongdeyuan Community, which is located in the core area of Guide Subdistrict, home to more than 5,400 residents from 18 villages.

“I lived on the banks of the Yellow River all my life. Over the decades, I had to rebuild my house every 10 years or so. I never dreamed that I could leave the floodplain and move into such a new building,” Wang said.

“Each person is assigned 33 square meters in the six-story buildings, which are fitted with elevators. There are seven types of apartments for the residents to choose from, and they are equipped with gas, heating and solar water heaters,” said Wang Yunsong, an employee of Guide Subdistrict.

Primary schools, kindergartens, recreational and sports centers, community service centers and care centers for the elderly have been built in the community to facilitate the needs of daily life, according to Wang.

To solve employment problems, jobs such as those in property management, cleaning and sanitation in the community are provided for relocated residents. Once they have received free skills training, they can also find jobs in nearly 100 enterprises in the industrial park near the community.

Liu Yue’e, 43, a villager from Juancheng County in Heze, gave up on the idea of rebuilding her old house in the floodplain after hearing of the government’s relocation plan. In November 2019, residents of 1,116 households from six villages in Dongkou Town of Juancheng, including Liu, left their homes in the floodplain and moved to the relocation site — Yellow River Community.

“We are satisfied. The new building is comfortable,” Liu said.

Now, Liu makes wigs in a workshop near her home, while her son studies in the town and her husband works in the coastal city of Qingdao in Shandong. She said her family’s dream of a brand new life has come true.

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