Since May, the southern area of China has been ravaged by heavy rainfalls causing massive flooding and triggering landslides—and there is more to come.
The affected region is the most developed in China and a major agricultural and manufacturing center. As a result, flooding has caused severe economic damage.
By 8 a.m. on June 24, heavy flooding had swept 20 provinces and claimed 365 lives, with 147 missing, and affected more than 59.85 million people. A total of 4.04 million people living alongside waterways were evacuated to safe areas. Direct economic losses amounted to approximately 70.9 billion yuan ($10.4 billion), while 3.76 million hectares of farmland were hit by flooding and rainstorms.
The Office of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters upgraded the flood emergency response from level 3 to level 2 at 10 p.m. on June 21. Local governments immediately evacuated endangered rural residents and relocated food and daily necessities for those in need. Ministries of finance and civil affairs have taken the appropriate action to put in place disaster relief funding and materials to support local governments fighting against the flooding.
Every year in May, most areas in China enter the flood season in succession. But this year's season has its own features: It came much earlier, is more intense and there is a greater rainfall volume than usual. Since May, altogether 14 rounds of heavy rainfall have hit the country. Compared with the same period in regular years, some areas witnessed 30 percent or twice the annual average amount of rainfall. To date, the water in more than 110 rivers has risen above alert level. Heavy rainstorms have also triggered various secondary disasters such as mountain torrents, landslides and urban flooding. Many water reservoirs have encountered the risk of bursting capacity.
The severe flooding challenges China's ability to control water. After more than 50 years of construction, most sections of China's major rivers and lakes are now able to withstand severe flooding. Small and medium-sized rivers can stand up to flooding that occurs every five to 10 years, while some are able to withstand heavy floods occurring every 10 to 20 years.
In spite of the progress in flood control, small and medium-sized rivers and lakes are less fortified than larger ones, leaving them vulnerable to massive mountain torrents. Many rural residents live alongside mountain slopes and could be easily carried away by mud flows and landslides triggered by heavy rainstorms. Also, flood control systems for some rivers are not advanced enough to withstand severe flooding.
A large number of ill-maintained reservoirs, ongoing water conservancy projects and small hydropower stations make flood control even tougher. Some local government officials and residents are inexperienced and, when caught in a flood situation, are under-prepared.
The severe flooding in Guangzhou in Guangdong Province in May has further exposed the defective flood control and degraded drainage system in cities.
In recent years, weather conditions become more complicated, and geological hazards are growing in intensity. How to cope effectively and quickly with all kinds of natural disasters, keeping local residents safe and guaranteeing sustainable development, is a new challenge facing central and local governments at all levels.