It was supposed to be capable of handling the kind of deluge that happens just once in a thousand years. Instead, the controversial Three Gorges Dam hasn’t prevented the worst flooding in just two decades after the lower reaches of the Yangtze River Delta were submerged after weeks of torrential rain.
As we reported in WiC332, journalists have been digging through official reports, noting the changing tone in the government’s confidence in the giant dam’s flood control capabilities. However, as Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reports, the censors have not been happy with some of the social media commentary relating to the forebodings of the late hydrologist Huang Wanli who warned the dam would silt up and eventually need to be demolished.
One netizen whose postings haven’t been removed is Wang Xinyu from Wuhan (one of the worst affected cities). Wang has been demanding that the local government explain how it spent the Rmb13 billion ($1.94 billion) promised on drainage programmes across the city (see WiC202 for an earlier discussion of Wuhan’s problems with flooding).
According to the Financial Times, the answer is that only Rmb4 billion has been spent so far and completion of the project has been delayed until 2018. The slow progress now looks unwise, as the Hubei provincial government says the economic damage from this year’s flooding has reached Rmb18.1 billion.
During a visit to flood-hit areas, Premier Li Keqiang said the central government has been far better prepared this year versus in 1998, when a series of floods ravaged northeastern China and killed more than 4,000. (Then Premier Zhu Rongji castigated local governments for crumbling dykes, which resembled “tofu dregs and turtle eggs”.)
The Ministry of Civil Affairs said 600 people have died or gone missing this year in areas affected by flooding and landslides. Two million people have also been evacuated across 11 provinces.
Heavy rainfall has frequently caused catastrophic floods along the Yangtze River, which runs from the Tibetan plateau to the East China Sea. Many of the adjoining marshlands, which once sponged up excess water, were developed into farmland during the Great Leap Forward, while cities like Wuhan have seen many of their lakes drained to make way for urban development.
The somewhat ironically named East Lake Hi-Tech Industrial Zone in Wuhan has been particularly badly affected. The area is known as China’s Optics Valley and is home to one of Lenovo’s biggest production plants. The tech giant’s 126,000 square metre facility has had to be shut down, with 2,000 staff evacuated to higher ground. The 21CN Business Herald estimates the closures are costing Lenovo Rmb1 million in profit per day.
The current flooding is also believed to have destroyed about 1.7 million acres of crops.
One touchstone for the crisis has been the plight of 6,000 pigs, which were submerged to their snouts at a farm in Anhui province.
Photos of two farmers tearfully bidding farewell to the animals they had hand-reared, prompted a social media campaign to save them. After the local environmental protection team said they could not move the pigs on epidemic prevention grounds, a local food and agricultural company, Xishang Group, stepped in to save their bacon instead.
Even the drought-prone northern regions have been hit by strong downpours this year. According to the China Daily, many northern cities raised their flood alert warnings to the highest level on Wednesday. In Beijing, the rain has severely disrupted the transportation system as nine underpasses were flooded.
The extreme downpours also resulted in a rare weather forecast by Xi Jinping this week, as the Chinese president told the nation to expect torrential deluges and even more flooding this summer.
Local officials who fail to perform their duties and don’t live up to the central government’s expectations in the forthcoming disaster prevention and control efforts would not be treated leniently, Xi likewise warned.
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