Massive flooding in China; over 550 thousand evacuated

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

The course of the Yangtze River, China's largest, from north to south.
Image: File Upload Bot (Magnus Manske)..

Heavy June rainfall has forced China to evacuate more than 550,000 people from their homes. Massive floods have devastated the central and southern parts of the country, causing rivers to overflow their banks and triggering mudslides. The rains follow the worst drought in China in over 50 years, which has decimated crop yields.

Cquote1.svg Since June 13, the damage caused by the rainstorms has led to ... the emergency evacuation of 671,200 people to safety. Cquote2.svg

—China's Ministry of Civil Affairs

Overall, 40 rivers have risen above safe limits, stressing dykes and dams including those on China's largest waterway, the Yangtze River, which is flooding downstream while experiencing a severe drought near its source in the north.

China's disaster level has been raised to four, the highest on the scale. In a statement on its website on Friday, China's Ministry of Civil Affairs said, "Since June 13, the damage caused by the rainstorms has led to ... the emergency evacuation of 671,200 people to safety."

The current round of heavy rains began in early June. Since then, more than a million and a half people have been displaced in the central and southern regions of the country and at least 168 deaths have been reported. Meteorologists in Beijing are predicting more heavy rain in Sichuan, Guizhou, and Zhejiang this weekend.

Cquote1.svg [R]escue boats cannot go through those narrow lanes inside the village. A lot of them depend on their relatives rowing small wooden boats to get to them... It is hard to help these people inside there. Cquote2.svg

—Chinese villager

The government has mobilized its forces to aid in the massive evacuations. According to Reuters, local authorities are distributing a box of instant noodles and a carton of bottled water to those affected by the flood. But villagers have reported that survival is difficult, especially for those still trapped by the flood waters in small villages, and distribution of aid is slow, with some not receiving any.

A villager was quoted by Reuters: "To be frank, those rescue boats cannot go through those narrow lanes inside the village. A lot of them depend on their relatives rowing small wooden boats to get to them... It is hard to help these people inside there." Another villager, Shou Pengfei said, "Some did not even get any relief items. There is no electricity and you get bitten by mosquitoes all the time."

Cquote1.svg Some did not even get any relief items. There is no electricity and you get bitten by mosquitoes all the time. Cquote2.svg

—Shou Pengfei, A Chinese villager

According to the Beijing Climate Centre, weather trends have shifted drastically. Currently the rain is coming in shorter but fiercer bursts, with protracted periods of drought in between the torrential rain.

Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze in 2009.
Image: Rehman.

The heavy rainfall is not likely to reduce the crop failure caused by months of drought, especially in the north, the heart of China's grain-growing bread basket, where many rivers have dried up. According to reports, the northern countryside has been left devastated by the droughts. Huge dams hundreds of meters wide are now small, muddy pools. Large cities such as Beijing are draining the underground water sources and China is facing a long-term water crisis.

Meanwhile, China is engaged in a huge multi-year engineering project designed to move water to the parched north and away from the flooded south. The North-South water project is a massive series of canals and pipes designed to carry water from the Yangtze and Yellow rivers to Beijing.

It is likely, analysts predict, that Chinese crop shortages will increase food prices worldwide. Even before the latest flooding, the severe drought in the north caused a shortfall in China's crop yields that will likely affect the price of wheat and may propel a price increase in global markets.


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