While drought persists in southwestern China, this year’s rainy season is bringing fears of extensive flooding elsewhere in the country. The national flood and drought prevention agency is warning of flooding along the Yangtze potentially more severe than the catastrophic floods of 1998 that killed 4,150 people. Water levels on the river’s middle and lower reaches are 1-3 meters higher than normal as a result of the recent torrential downpours and floods are already occurring along some of the river’s tributaries.
State media quote Wu Daoxi, who heads the agency’s Yangtze office, as saying that the chance for large-scale flooding is significantly higher now than in 1998. Other officials from the agency say that widespread floods are also likely to occur along the Huaihe river and localized ones along the Pearl river. Reservoirs are reported to be already filled to 80-90% capacity. Last Friday, Chen Lei, minister for water resources, called for reservoirs to be shored up to prevent flooding, saying that 40,000 were at risk of giving way. One that did, the Badoucun reservoir in Hunan, has resulted in a local official being sacked for not taking precautionary measures in time.
The potential damage caused by flooding is getting more severe because depletion of groundwater is lowering water tables and causing some 50 of China’s largest cities to sink Venice-like, Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Xian among them. We have noted before the potential explosive social costs of a water crisis getting beyond the government’s control. It will take a comprehensive program of water conservation, better water resource management and better husbandry of the ecosystem. And there are plans on all those fronts. But the weather is no respecter of five-year plans.