China braces for more flooding as torrential rains forecast

Echo Xie

Millions of people in southern China may have to be evacuated as weather forecasters say the region is set for more heavy rain and flooding that have already wreaked havoc in low-lying areas.

More than 8.5 million people have been affected by the torrential downpours that soaked the region between the end of May and June 15, according to a report by China National Radio.

The economic losses have been estimated at 20 billion yuan (US$2.8 billion).

The National Meteorological Centre warned on Tuesday that heavy rain was set to hit the southern province of Guizhou and the mid- and downstream areas of the Yangtze River later this week. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Emergency Management said parts of southern China would be hit by heavy downpours before the end of the month.

The Ministry of Water Resources said water levels in the Huai and Pearl rivers – both tributaries of the Yangtze – might rise beyond their flood warning lines.

Chongqing, a major business and commercial hub in southwest China, is one of the areas that has been hardest hit.

The Qi River, which flows through the city, is seeing its heaviest flooding in 80 years with the water level in some areas as high as 205 metres (670 feet), or five metres above the warning level, according to local authorities. More than 100,000 residents of Qijiang district have already been evacuated.

Nearby, the water level at the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s biggest hydropower project, surged to 147 metres on Saturday, two metres above its flood control line, state broadcaster CCTV said.

The Three Gorges dam water levels are already above its flood line. Photo: Handout

The water inflow increased to 26,500 cubic metres per second from 20,500 cubic metres per second on Friday, it said.

The local navigation department has strengthened its inspections of vessels, docks and key waterways in the region, but Guo Xun, a research fellow at the China Earthquake Administration in Beijing, said the dam was not at risk of collapse.

The structure was designed to deal with “once-in-a-millennium” water levels of 175 metres and flows of up to 70,000 cubic metres per second, he was quoted as saying in a report by Global Times.

“The current 147-metre water level and 26,500 cubic metre per second flow are absolutely safe,” he said.

While the dam might have escaped the deluge unscathed, the same cannot be said for some communities.

Experts who monitor China’s climate said low-income families living in flood-prone areas were at great risk of losing their livelihoods.

“The floods in southeastern China came earlier this year and it’s more extreme,” said Liu Junyan, a Beijing-based climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia.

“The extreme weather has exposed social injustice,” she said. “Areas that are below the poverty line will suffer more and recovery will be much harder.”

Unlike big cities, townships and rural areas were less resilient to natural disasters as they were less well-equipped with infrastructure and government policy support, Liu said.

While China had developed climate adaptation plans in preparation for a weather-induced crisis up to 2035, they focused on major cities like Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai, she said.

Cities should build weather monitoring systems, make preparations for dealing with disasters, and consider the impact of climate change when making economic and social development plans, she said.

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