India and China's environmental problems are as epic and sweeping as the two countries' economic ambitions. The capitals of Beijing and New Delhi are notorious for skylines blanketed by an opaque and suffocating smog, where children grow up with asthma and severe respiratory illnesses. Once vibrant greenlands scattered across fertile states such as Hebei in China and Jharkhand in India are now overrun by sprawling coal fields and fire-spouting factories. And the nations' water supplies today stand grossly polluted, with Ganges and the Yangtze's watershed areas poisoned with carcinogenic chemical waste and sewage.
In 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang 'declared war' on pollution. And in 2016, Indian Prime Minister Modi proclaimed an energy agenda set to double coal production by 2020—fuelling promises of bringing electricity to the country's vast rural poor. As the world's most populous nations, India and China are today the battleground for urgent global environmental concerns pitted against rapid national development.
This ongoing investigation aims to unpack and visualise the issues of air and water pollution across India and China. Using character-led stories in ten acutely affected areas across the two nations - from larger cities such as Beijing and Mumbai, cancer villages such as Xingtai (Hebei) and Sher Singh Wala (Punjab), and massive mining zones such as Jharia (Jharkhand) and Bayan Obo (Inner Mongolia) - this project aims humanise the impact on individuals and to society of worsening air and water pollution, exposing issues from health related ailments to changes in agrarian and urban livelihoods. Culminating in a multimedia body of work, this investigation's human focus has the potential to engage and inform new audiences of Asia's devastating pollution - an issue which today threatens the future of the world as a whole.
JHARIA - A TOWN ON FIRE
Jharia lies at the heart of India’s largest coal belt, in the north-east state of Jharkhand, producing most of the country's coking coal required in the production of steel and thermo-electricity plants. Yet the vast open cast mines that stretch through these lands lie on top of underground fires that have been burning for over a century. Recent mining expansions have provoked these flames causing open fires to erupt along the earth's surface, spewing noxious gases and destroying the land. This chapter looks into the poverty-stricken and forgotten lives of people governed by India's billion dollar coal operations - the dirty end of a dirty business.