National Geographic : 2004 Mar
building themselves fine new wooden houses, as big as Swiss chalets, equipping them with TVs, CD players, and other luxuries of modern liv ing. But how long can the good times last? Lurong's 73-year-old mother remembers how different the area looked when she was growing up. "There were oak trees covering all these hills," she said, lifting an arm toward the bare slopes. The village then had 20 households; now there are 42, and families have been steadily cutting down their trees to build houses and to use for fuel. Shaking her head, she said that Naren has been plagued by flash floods. Indeed, every year in Yunnan Province some 500 people die in floods and landslides that wash away not just houses but entire sections of roads and railroads. Without trees and bushes to soak up rainfall, the water rushes off the bare slopes. Beyond flood ing, villagers worry that more tree cutting could put an end to the mushroom bonanza-and their ability to acquire the creature comforts of modern life. "Without the forests we have noth ing," said Gesrong Dinghu. ust as Daqiao illustrates the human toll of China's leap forward, tiny Naren's rags to-relative-riches transformation presents a microcosm of a new and increasingly urgent challenge for the nation: finding a balance TAINTED SPACES Cities with China's worst air, as calculated by the government, are mostly in the north, where blowing dust combines with industrial pollutants. Most Chinese live in the east, an area transected by polluted rivers. Inadequate wastewater treatment and groundwater depletion have led to a national water crisis.