Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Rat-Proof Fence

In a story that could only come out of China (or India, perhaps), we read about plans in the Hunan province to build a new 24-mile long fence aimed at preventing – no, not an invasion of migrants from North Korea, or mini-tides of refugees from Afghanistan – hardly, this time it is to wall off a land rush of 2 billion scattered mice and rats that have been uprooted since water has been released from the Three Gorges dam in order “to ease pressures on rivers and plains” that has been caused by some of the worst flooding in central China in 50 years.

[Image: An unrelated painting by Dan Witz of an interminable landscape of rats. Photo via Art Moco.]

So, apparently the water release is a normal occurrence, as is the subsequent rat exodus around nearby villages and across local terrain. But, this time, the magnitude was unparalleled.
The water was released into Dongting Lake that had experienced drought for months. This sudden flogging of the plains has forced millions of rodents from their holes in the ground to flee for their lives.

The story was first reported I believe in PanAsianBiz, but this Guardian article provides some crazy details.

“Local villagers described their migration in terms of an army on the move, eating everything in their path. Entire crop fields were reportedly devoured in a single afternoon.

According to domestic media, the munching was so loud that it could be heard inside villagers' homes.”

No doubt the makings for a creepy subtopian landscape horror show, the same article also reports that due to China’s current flooding crisis 3 million people have also been uprooted from their homes and forced to evacuate.
A grim scene to be sure: millions of villagers wandering the countryside starved, while the “roads and hillsides” have been “turned black” with the mass exodus of a plague of rats fleeing the same area. Meanwhile, restrateurs from Guangzhou are scooping up the rats with nets to prepare them as pricey little delicacies for businessmen craving something exotic, though some reports deny this.

The infestation has been exacerbated partly because of the construction of various dams recently in China, which has exposed and decreased the populations of normal predators (snakes and owls) more to the villagers who then eat them as popular dishes, and because the “proliferation of dams has lessened the downstream waterflow, widening the habitable territory of the rodents.”
The Guardian also reports that locals have been beating thousands of mice to death with sticks while also using ferrets and poison, but in the process have killed fresh supplies of livestock as well. So far, it sounds like nearly 2 million rats have been exterminated and buried weighing close to 90 tons. Wow - mass grave mounds of dead buried rat refugees.
So now, according to this article, to protect villagers from future infestations, “the Lujiao Township along Dongting Lake in northern Hubei is ready to shell out $792,000 to build the one-meter-high rat-proof wall,” while the “provincial government of Hunan has allocated $1.05 million to repair rat-proof walls” (I assume that means some already existing barriers in place). Not much more seems to be said about how the rat wall will be constructed or how it will work, how deeply underground it would need to go, or where the rats will flee in the face of such a barrier. Of course, I am only curious of the repercussions or natural consequences of any barrier!

And, just what you were hoping for – we’ve got a video for you right here, compliments of Reuters.

But perhaps the whole scenario is just a grotesque symbol for the kinds of human displacements that are happening on other various levels and scales. Not only for how these types of mass hydrologic projects are evicting people from their own communities, or how the force of dam building booms may be even altering the earth’s rotation in some way, but metaphorically the dam as a symbol of global gentrification, borders and the military hydrologic control of the flows of global migration; and the mass displacements that are caused by institutionalized border levees, flood gates and selective international filtration.
What if we looked at global migration as being controlled by a military hydrology of border enforcement infrastructures? If eventually global borders operated and functioned much the same way these massive automated superstructures of hydrology do, re-flooding certain zones while drying up others; directing migrants to certain labor plains while exposing others for the exploitative taking; forcing migration routes underground while raising other subterranean zones to the surface; allowing certain flows in while preventing others – dams analogous to a massive reshaping of the landscapes and geographies of migration.
Okay, I admit, this isn’t that well articulated yet, and maybe this metaphor is a stretch, but when I think about 3 million people being driven from their homes by flooding, and 2 billion rats on the move, and the dam as an ecological border (and being the incessant border freak that I am!) I can’t help but to draw comparisons between these rats on the move, a rat-proof fence, the Three Gorges Dam, and global migration.
Anyway, over and out!

(Thanks Rob for the story!)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mention of rat proof walls reminded me of the Xcluder http://www.xcluder.co.nz/ which is meant to stop all mammals (in New Zealand) from passing.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Subtopia said...

Thank you for this.

9:55 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

hey b
there's a good chapter on war, water, borders and migration in fred pearces book, "when the rivers run dry". he breaks down the israeli conflict control of water resources that i've never seen before. does the same when explaining the kashmir conflict as well. you might find it interesting!

4:32 PM  
Blogger Subtopia said...

deeey-finit-lee! as Rodrigo would say.

cool, you have that book, right? I'll check it out when you get back in town.
thanks dude!

6:18 PM  

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