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Homes Rebuilt with 'Low Carbon' Effort

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In a green valley of Guangyuan City in southwest China's Sichuan Province, people are busily working to rebuild their homes, schools and hospitals, which were devastated during the May 12 earthquake last year.

At Malu village in the valley, visitors could hardly recognize it used to be a place jolted by the deadly 8.0-magnitude earthquake. School buildings painted in pink and yellow, lines of vegetable greenhouses and new farmhouses stand on the mild slope of mountains.

Together with the rebuilt houses, a new sewage treatment plant has also been under construction. "They are not normal sewage pools, but pools using biotechnologies that purify the water with earthworms," said Prof. Yang Jian, designer of the plant, pointing at the two big cement tanks.

Thousands of specially-bred earthworms will eat sludge and other wastes in the sewage and the earthworms' feces will become fertilizer, leaving clean water to flow to the nearby river.

This kind of biological sewage treatment pool uses very little electricity compared to the traditional sewage treatment facilities, said Yang, and the whole cleaning process is compatible to the environment.

Currently, China only has a small bio-tech sewage plant for demonstration like this in Shanghai.

Zheng Yonggan, vice director of Zhejiang Huzhou reconstruction assistance team who is in charge of the reconstruction work at Malu village, said they heard about the sewage program by chance and had invited Prof. Yang to help them build the bio-tech plant in the village.

Walking in the village, visitors could see many energy-saving facilities which give a modern taste to the rural village.

Lines of shining solar panels paving the roofs of school buildings, which allows 1,200 students to take hot showers everyday; the wall of the newly-built village hospital is made of insulating materials to keep the house warm in winter and cool in summer; all roads are lighted by solar energy.

Jiang Wei, deputy secretary-general of the Guangyuan municipal government, said Malu village set a good example for an ecology-friendly reconstruction in the quake-hit areas. After more than one year of the earthquake, the devastated areas are all in busy reconstruction and economic development.

"More construction means we may have more carbon dioxide emission, yet it also gives us an opportunity to transfer our reconstruction mode to a low-carbon, environment-friendly, and sustainable developing way. Guangyuan takes the chance," Jiang said.

Also as a researcher of sustainable economic development with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Jiang found her expertise totally compatible to Guangyuan government's low carbon development plan.

Luo Qiang, secretary of Communist Party of China (CPC) Guangyuan Committee, said the city, with a population of 3.1 million, has initiated the concept of "low carbon reconstruction" and has invited experts from the CASS and the European Union to map out detailed plans to build Guangyuan's low carbon construction, industrial system and to promote local resident's environmental protection awareness.

"Building a low carbon industrial system first needs energy-saving emission reduction, and the increase of carbon sink," said Jiang. "Based on Guangyuan's natural energy resources, we should promote the use of clean energies such as natural gas, hydro-electricity and methane."

The city's extraordinarily rich natural gas resource has encouraged the local government to take the action of "gasifying Guangyuan". According to the plan, 35 local big and medium-sized enterprises will gradually turn their energy supply from coal to natural gas, estimating the reduction of carbon dioxide to reach 1.23 million ton per year. By 2015, about 90 percent of local taxies and buses will also use gas instead of oil.

To increase carbon sink means to increase the forest coverage area to absorb more carbon dioxide. Guangyuan plans to increase the forest coverage rate from the current 48 percent to 53 percent by 2015. Its industry system will also be transformed to low-carbon one with tourism, tea and electronics as its main industries.

The last day of this year would be Guangyuan' s first "low carbon day". "We choose this day because we want to tell the public it is critical time to protect the environment and cope with climate change," Jiang said.

Jiang believed that people's change of concept and life style is the most important factor of building an environment-friendly society.

"In the past decade, living a frugal life sometimes is regarded as poor, now frugality has become a fashion," said Jiang. "Local people are very happy to see the change and are proud of living a simple life again."

Just days ago, a group of young people rode bicycles instead of drove cars to get married in Guangyuan, and had caused quite a sensation, she added.

At Daping Village of Sichuan's Tongji County, a place which was also heavily stricken by the earthquake last year, so-called "LOHO (happiness and harmony) homes" are being jointly built by local residents and a non-governmental environmental protection group, the "Global Village of Beijing".

The walls of a LOHO home's farmhouse are made of bamboo plywood and folder polystyrene board, keeping the temperature stable in the room, and saving a lot of wood or bricks.

Experts and local villagers decide to develop eco-agriculture, eco-tourism and creative crafts to help recover local economy after the earthquake, and have established connections with some communities in big cities such as the provincial capital Chengdu.

According to Liao Xiaoyi, chief of the "Global Village of Beijing", the hand-made embroidered handkerchiefs by local women have entered the city market to replace paper tissues and were presented to international celebrities such as former US president Bill Clinton as gifts.

As an environmentalist born in Sichuan, Liao thinks the living wisdom in China's traditional culture to respect the environment, treasure things, be in harmony with nature, and live together peacefully offers a way to solve the current environmental crisis.

"The harmony of mind and body, individual and group, human being and the environment is very important," Liao said. "I hope the LOHO home will not only benefit the earthquake-stricken areas and the villagers, but also provide a natural and spiritual home for people who want to return to innocence."

(Xinhua News Agency December 14, 2009)

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