Better defences now, but floods test China's mettle

Residents of Wuhan in Hubei province heading to work on an excavator last Friday through churning floodwaters. China has been experiencing widespread flooding as torrential rains batter wide swathes of the country.
Residents of Wuhan in Hubei province heading to work on an excavator last Friday through churning floodwaters. China has been experiencing widespread flooding as torrential rains batter wide swathes of the country.PHOTO: REUTERS

Over 10,000 evacuated and 160 killed as torrential rains, floods batter country

CHANGSHA • More than 10,000 people in central Hunan province have been evacuated after flooding caused a dike breach yesterday morning.

Huarong County, on the banks of the Yangtze River and home to around 27,000 people, is the latest area to be affected by floodwaters.

Since the end of last month, torrential rains and floods across wide swathes of China have besieged cities and towns.

In Fujian province, close to half a million residents in nine cities were temporarily relocated after Typhoon Nepartak made landfall on Saturday. Two people have died and 17 remain missing in the province.

Floods and landslides have killed more than 160 people, mainly along the Yangtze River and its tributaries.

 

Rainfall this year has been 21 per cent higher than average, and 27 per cent higher along the Yangtze River Basin, according to the national meteorological office.

The economic damage from the latest floods has been heavy, and big cities like Wuhan and Nanjing have been disrupted by water pooling in densely populated areas.

AILING SYSTEM

Everyone, including the government, has become aware that the entire water system has been hurt by overdevelopment.

MR KE ZHIQIANG, a leader of Green City of Rivers, an environmental advocacy group in Wuhan.

State-run news media said the death count would have been higher if the government and military had not acted quickly to reinforce flood defences and evacuate people.

The government has also emphasised the role of the Three Gorges Dam, which can hold back surges of water that would otherwise threaten areas downstream along the Yangtze, China's longest river.

"We all lived through the big floods of 1998," Premier Li Keqiang said last week, while inspecting flood defences along the Yangtze River. The 1998 floods killed more than 4,000 people.

"Now, we're even stronger. We must ensure that the river basin safely gets through the floods, ensure that the Yangtze River - this mighty artery of the Chinese economy - is safe."

Yet this year's floods have exposed other problems: the overdevelopment of low-lying areas, and drainage systems that failed to cope with prolonged torrential downpours.

"This year, we've seen more flooding persist in urban areas," said Mr Ke Zhiqiang, a leader of Green City of Rivers, an environmental advocacy group in Wuhan.

"There's a systemic problem. Lakes have been shrinking - natural drainage has been damaged," Mr Ke told The New York Times.

"Everyone, including the government, has become aware that the entire water system has been hurt by overdevelopment."

Wuhan resident Wang Xinyu, a university student, has earned nationwide attention for demanding that city officials disclose how much they spent on upgrading the city's drainage system.

Three years ago, officials promised that they would invest 13 billion yuan (S$2.6 billion) on enhancing pipes and channels to drain floodwaters. Ms Wang suggested that they have fallen far short.

"I just want to know how that 13 billion was spent," she told Chinese news website sina.com.

XINHUA, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline 'Better defences now, but floods test China's mettle'. Print Edition | Subscribe