Tag Archives: climate

2010 Will End With No End To Abnormal Weather

More unusual weather is in the forecast for the final three months of what has already been a highly untypical year of drought and floods, according to the latest seasonal forecast from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, the source of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) regional weather outlook maps (snapshot of the latest below; full map).

As northern China heads into its dry season, there is likely to be heavier than usual rains in central China between October and December (the darker green area on the map, left). However, in the south, barely over the summer’s floods, dryer than usual weather is in the forecast for the same period (the orange areas).

Temperatures are likely to unseasonably warm across the country, and especially in the southwest, though that stands in contrast to the prediction in August by Jiao Meiyan, deputy chief of China Meteorological Administration, that winter will be severely cold.

Meanwhile, rain has returned to Hainan, the most recent province to have been inundated by flooding, disrupting the lives of 2.7 million people across the island.

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Hainan Floods Claim First Victim

The flooding on Hainan following the heaviest rains on the island in 40 years has turned deadly. Authorities say one fisherman has lost his life and three others are missing, with more than 210,000 people now evacuated from 1,160 inundated villages. An extensive rescue operation is underway. Flood damage, including to the fishing fleet, is extensive. Meanwhile, efforts continue to deal with the threat of a potential dam collapse in the provincial capital Haikou. And  as we have written so many times this year, more rain is in the forecast.

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China’s Record Harvests Offset Flood Damage To Farmland

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This Bystander has been trying to piece together the economic effects of this year’s rains, floods and landslides on the year’s harvests and so food prices. Though the official number for direct economic damage from this year’s extreme weather  is high, more than 350 billion yuan ($51.4 billion), it turns out the picture is surprisingly benign when it comes to food supplies. What nature takes away with one hand, she seemingly returns with the other

Damage to farmland has been localized though widespread and severe where it happened: 13 million hectares lost, according to the count of the U.N’s Food and Agriculture Organization, primarily across Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Chongqing, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, Shaanxi and Gansu. The Ministry of Civil Affairs puts the number of hectares of flooded farmland  at 16.5 million, a higher number than the FAO’s but which may have a lower bar of damage.

Set against that a record winter wheat crop harvested in June (that harvest accounts for 95% of annual wheat production: the picture above is from Xian in Shaanxi at the end of May), despite the extreme weather. A similarly record cereal crop (maize for livestock feed and rice) is expected, too. Though the much smaller spring wheat planting now being gathered will have been reduced by the cold snap in the northeast at sowing, the 2010 wheat crop overall is expected to be 114 million tonnes, within a percentage point of last year’s record. The maize crop is being forecast at 166 million tonnes, which would be a high, and rice, more tentatively, at 196 tones, which would also be a record. Meat and poultry production has also been running at record levels, one reason the demand for maize has been so high.

All that, higher government subsidies for wheat and rice production, and decent stockpiles from last year are keeping food prices stable.

The human loss is easier to catalogue, if less palatable: 3,185 lives lost, according to the latest official estimate, with at least 1,060 still missing; 12 million have been displaced.

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China’s Rains Will Abate By November, But A Harsh Winter Is Close Behind

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has just updated its Asia regional map of natural disasters it is monitoring, including its weather forecast into November. Snapshot below; full map here. Heavier than normal rainfall is expected to continue into November in north, central China. The good news is that the area forecast to be affected is much smaller than when OCHA last forecast (into October) about a month back and the rains will be less intense.

Above Average Rain Forecast To November

After the spring’s droughts and summer’s floods, winter will be severely cold, according to Jiao Meiyan, deputy chief of China Meteorological Administration. He told Xinhua that China has been experiencing weather this year much like that in 1998 when the El Nino and La Nina climate systems in the Pacific combined in a distinctive way known as the Southern Oscillation that stalls weather systems around the world. Wikipedia has a more detailed explanation, and a discussion about whether it is caused by global warming.

The salient point is that historically that combination of El Nino and La Nina, which occurs every three to seven years, is associated with severe droughts and floods around the world, as we have seen this year from the eastern U.S., to Russia, Pakistan and Eastern Europe as well as China.

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New Flood Surge Threat To Three Gorges Dam

The recent heavy rain in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River is posing a second flood surge threat to the Three Gorges Dam.  On Tuesday, the water level in the dam was more than 7 meters higher than the 145-meter flood alarm level, according to the Yangtze River Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters. Water levels reached 158 meters in July, just 17 meters below maximum capacity. Shipping through the Three Gorges was again suspended on Monday evening.

Update: The peak surge has passed without mishap, CCTV reports.

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North Korea Says Flooding ‘Severe’, China On New Alert

State media in North Korea are now saying that 5,000 people have been evacuated from in and around the northwestern border town of Sinuiju following the breaching of a dike on the Yalu River, which marks the border with China, on the outskirts of the Chinese port city of Dandong on Saturday. Sinuiju and surrounding villages were said to have been “severely affected” by the flooding of the rain swollen Yalu. Military units, including the air force and navy, have been deployed in rescue operations and to help shore up flood defences.

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The picture above shows North Koreans reinforcing the banks of the Yalu at Sinuiju on Sunday.

On the Chinese side 94,000 people have been evacuated from Dandong. Four people are reported to have died as a result of the rains that started on Thursday, with at least one more missing. More than 200 houses have been destroyed in the city and its surrounding townships. The water level of the Yalu had fallen below critical levels by Sunday, but more rain, inevitably, is in the forecast.

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While residents across Liaoning cope with the latest floods (the picture above was taken in the provincial capital Shenyang), authorities are again on flood and landslide alert across the country as more heavy rain in the upper reaches of the Yangtze and in the northeast has raised water levels in many rivers back to danger levels. Authorities have also called off the search for survivors of the mudslide that hit Zhouqu in Gansu two weeks ago. The official death toll stands at 1,435 as of Sunday, with 330 still missing.

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Large Scale Evacuation Follows Yalu River Dike Breach

The feared flooding of the Yalu River along the border with North Korea has led to a further 50,000 people being evacuated from Dandong at the river’s mouth after the waters breached a dike on the outskirts of the city.  A second dike protecting the centre of the city has held so far. Some buildings on the outskirts have been flooded to the first floor. Rail services to the provincial capital Shenyang are now cut because the line is underwater. Three people are reported missing. Authorities are now concentrating on preventing landslides.

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Renewed rain started falling heavily on Friday swelling the river, which was already at sufficiently critical levels for shipping lanes to have been closed for three days earlier this month and a first round of evacuations undertaken. The picture of a tributary of the Yalu looking from Dandong towards the North Korean town of Sinuiju was taken on Aug. 6.

We are hearing reports that flood damage on the North Korean side of the river as a result of the most recent rains has been extensive. North Korea has already acknowledged that there has been substantial damage in the east of the country as a result of the exceptionally heavy rains that have fallen all summer.

More torrential rain is forecast for the region over the next 24 hours, and for central and southwestern China.

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More Rains Lash China, Death Toll Mounts

More torrential rains are lashing Gansu and southwestern Sichuan, triggering deadly mud- and landslides that have left a further 49 dead and 82 missing across the two provinces. These follow the Aug. 8 disaster in Zhouqu where the death toll is now put at 1,254 with 490 still unaccounted for.

Communications, water and power supplies are being restored in the town as a massive relief effort continues to get supplies to the remote town and other affected areas. One piece of cheer from Zhouqu is that public health officials say they have had no reports of outbreaks of infectious disease so far.

In all. the rains are being blamed for the deaths of more than 2,300 people across the country so far this year with a further 1,200 missing. And. as we have written too often this year, more rain is in the forecast.

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Lessons From China’s Floods

This Bystander remains struck by the attention being given, at least by the Western press, to the floods in Pakistan compared to that been given to China’s, which are on an incomparably greater scale, affecting hundreds of millions of people, not tens of millions as in Pakistan.

True, China is not a locus of America’s “war on terror”. Nor has the flooding there led to the sort of chaos seen in Pakistan thanks to China’s well-laid disaster response plans. Local governments have emergency teams and supplies ready and waiting to go; central government can rapidly deploy specially trained soldiers, armed police and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to the worst affected areas. The earthquakes, floods and droughts of the past couple of years have given them all much opportunity to become seasoned emergency responders. Also, despite months of torrential rains and consequent flooding, landslides and mudslides across the country and a slowly but steadily mounting death toll, there had not been a single incident horrific enough to capture international attention until the landslide that devastated Zhouqu.

That there hadn’t been is thanks in great part to flood-control measures put in place after the terrible flooding of 1998. Those have not been perfect, nor perfectly implemented, and as in the case of the Three Gorges dam some have created new problems of their own, but they have been good enough to prevent a greater disaster than has occurred and particularly to reduce the loss of life.

A question now is what lessons will be learned from the floods of 2010. As we noted earlier, there is debate about the extent to which disasters like the one that has befallen Zhouqu are natural or man-made, an unintended consequence of the rush to economic development in the interior without due concern for the environmental consequences of the construction of hydroelectric dams, increased mining and road building, as well as extensive illegal logging and mining in many mountainous areas. Local officials have been rewarded for economic development, regardless of cost, including to the environment.

Beijing is making great strides for a developing economy in being more protective of the environment. There are policy prescriptions aplenty. That should all be acknowledged, just as the immensity of the challenge of doing that in an economy that the central government wants to be kept growing at at least 8% a year for reasons of political legitimacy should not be underestimated. Even keeping up, let alone catching up is a Herculean task.

There is legitimate economic self-interest in undertaking it. Party leaders are, however, acutely aware of the risk of single-issue social movements evolving into a challenge to their political monopoly.  They know their history well enough to understand that environmental degradation has been a fecund source of political movements in every industrial revolution. China’s will be no different; the outcome will depend on the Party’s ability to manage and co-opt them. The lessons of this year may be that the price of political legitimacy has just gone up a notch and gained an added environmental dimension. It is a lesson that will likely be pushed down to Party and local officials harder than before.

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More Rains Trigger New Landslides

More torrential rain in the northwest has triggered renewed deadly landslides in the region and is severely hampering rescue work at Zhouqu (below), where new mudslides have blocked roads making it difficult to bring in supplies and equipment to the remote mountain town while emergency shelters have been flooded.

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With 600 still missing in Zhouqu, concerns are increasing among public health officials that undiscovered bodies and dead animals buried under the mud are increasing the risk of disease from contaminated water. The official death toll from last weekend’s inundation of Zhougu is now put at 1,144. Authorities report a further 24 killed elsewhere in Gansu and five further south in Sichuan as a result of the latest landslides.

The debate about the extent to which these are natural or man-made disasters is growing. The latest landslides occurred in regions where there has been extensive illegal logging on mountains already unstable because of the construction of small hydroelectric dams, mining  and road building, and weakened further by the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. “The tragedy in Zhouqu is a reflection of the challenges and risks economic growth brings to poor regions,” Li Yan, a campaigner for Greenpeace China, told the French news agency.”Local governments are under pressure to alleviate poverty and develop the economy. In that process, there is environmental damage and degradation.”

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