Magazine / July 2013

Hope the grasslands will become green again

All of the hand-planted pine trees that were planted around the Shenhua Ordos coal-to-liquid facility have died because of lack of water.

All of the hand-planted pine trees that were planted around the Shenhua Ordos coal-to-liquid facility have died because of lack of water.

© Greenpeace / Qiu Bo

From 60-year-old Su Delan's front door, you can see four of the project's water pumping stations. She described life in the old days as "herds of cattle and flocks of sheep", and that now there's "no water to drink." 

WATCH THE VIDEO The battle of coal vs. water

The woman tells us water levels are dropping every year, and that she is greatly concerned about the future. "All the trees around here have already died," she says. "The grasslands have turned into deserts, and the dunes are expanding."

"With less water, the number of sheep and cattle are rapidly decreasing, and these days you hardly see flowers and birds around. In the past, anything you planted would grow. But now there's no water and the dry ground isn't good for planting crops. So we stopped planting."

As for the future, Wuzhu Yunle tells us: "I still harbor hope. I don't want to leave these grasslands. I can't bear to leave them."


Farmer Zhang prays to the heavens for rain in his dry, sweetcorn field, located in the Haole Baoji mixed pastoral-agricultural region. After the Shenhua coal-to-liquid project began extracting water, groundwater levels dropped leaving farmers without water for their crops.

His words echo a common dream shared by all the farmers and herders who live on the grasslands. Just as they wrote in their joint appeal letter: "We have lived here for generations and generations. We can't let the actions of a couple of enterprises destroy our lives. Faced with poverty, we're being forced to leave our homes."

UPDATE (23/08/13): China's largest coal conglomerate - the Shenhua Group - has admitted to illegally discharging wastewater in direct response to our 'Thirsty Coal 2' report. However, Greenpeace East Asia Climate and Energy campaigner Deng Ping said, “Shenhua has admitted to illegally discharging wastewater, but it has not clarified the ecological degradation and livelihood crisis caused by its Coal-to-Liquid project." Continue reading.

UPDATE (26/08/13): It's not easy to stand up in the middle of a press conference conducted by a Chinese state-owned coal company and demand change. It's not easy to remind representatives of their company's overexploitation of water resources and illegal discharging of toxic wastewater. But that's exactly what our gutsy campaigners have done.

Report: Thirsty Coal 2 - We look at the largest of nine coal chemical demonstration projects in operation: Shenhua’s Coal-to-Liquid Demonstration Project.

Report: Thirsty Coal - Our first report investigating the stress coal is putting on China's precious water resources.

Video: Thirst - A short documentary exploring the effects of water shortages on people in Inner Mongolia.

Video: The battle of coal vs. water - Thousands of miles separate China's water-rich south and the nation's coal-rich north.

Slideshow: Beautiful Lands Ravaged - Our photographers record how once lush grasslands have turned to desert.

Learn more about climate and energy in China - Including what we're doing about reversing climate change in the world's largest emitter of carbon.