You are here
Zhao Lupo is a hero. The 40-year-old migrant worker from Anhui reportedly saved five people during the devastating rainstorm that hit suburban Beijing last week. But when he went to the local village disaster relief office he was told to get lost because local villagers had priority in the distribution of relief supplies.
Like many migrants in Beijing, Zhao had lived in this outlying village for the last 20 years but he was still treated like a second class citizen by local residents. When Zhao’s story was reported by the Beijing Times it quickly went viral and the local authorities hastily dispatched supplies to his family.
The incident is depressing reminder of how entrenched discriminatory attitudes are in Beijing, where poor migrants are constantly pushed to the margins as the city develops and expands further and further into the suburbs. Poor rural migrants now have little option but to live in villages far from the city centre, beyond the fifth ring road or even like Zhao Lupo, beyond the sixth ring road.
The infrastructure in these villages is rudimentary and the quality of the buildings makeshift at best, making them particularly vulnerable to heavy rainstorms and flooding. The situation was exacerbated in Zhao’s village of Beicheying, which is located next to steep mountain gullies that channelled the flood water right into the poorly built village streets and houses.
In addition, local villagers had for decades been using migrant labour to mine the surrounding mountains for coal and other resources living huge scars across the landscape that made floods and landslides a disaster waiting to happen.
When I was a student in London in the early 1980s, I had a geography professor who told me that there is no such thing as a “natural disaster.” Nothing I’ve seen since then has convinced me otherwise, and the Beijing floods are just another example of how the poor and marginalized are always the worst hit when disaster strikes. Residents in the solidly built city centre were fine but at least 77 (maybe many more) died out on the margins.
And the same principle applies all too often in disaster relief as well. It is the rich and the powerful who decide who will get relief. Those at the end of the social ladder just have to wait in line.