The persistent drought that has hit 13 provinces in southwest and central China is starting to have an adverse impact on farming, China’s drought-relief officials have indicated for the first time. The fear is that the spring planting on 4 million hectares of crop land is threatened by the shortage of water. Reservoirs, such as the one in the picture above, in Shilin County, Yunnan, have dried up, worsening China’s structural water shortages. Approaching 8 million people and 4.6 million head of livestock are short of drinking water, officials say, with the latest number suggesting the impact of the lack of rain is spreading with the drought now in its third year in some parts. Yunnan, Sichuan, Hebei, Shanxi and Gansu are worse affected. A widespread emergency relief effort is underway.
Footnote: The main cash crops in Yunnan, where the drought is most intense, are rice, maize and wheat. The province is also known for its tobacco and tea.
The death toll from rain-triggered floods and landslides in central China has risen to 70 with 32 others missing, officials now say. The National Disaster Reduction Commission says more than 21 million people across eight provinces are now affected by the unusually late and heavy summer monsoon rains deluging Sichuan, Shaanxi, Henan, Chongqing, Hubei, Shandong, Shanxi and Gansu. Direct economic damages are put at an estimated 26 billion yuan ($4 billion). Hubei, Shaanxi and Sichuan have borne the brunt of it.
In the worst incident, a landslide that buried a brick factory and partially destroyed as ceramics plant in Baqiao, a suburb of Shaanxi’s provincial capital, Xian, 27 people are now reported dead with a further five missing. Rescue teams continue to recover bodies. (Update: The final death toll has been confirmed at 32 with the recovery of the last missing body on Tuesday, four days after the landslide.)
Meanwhile, the highest flood crest so far this year on the rain-swollen Yangtze river reached the Three Gorges Dam on Wednesday morning, raising the water level to 164 meters, 20 meters above the alert level.
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.
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.
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.”
With torrential rains returning to the north west, hopes for the further recovery of survivors from the Zhouqu landslide are fading and fears of new landslides and outbreaks of disease from dirty water emerging. Experts in epidemic prevention have arrived in the area, Xinhua reports, and squads of soldiers in protective suits are already disinfecting areas of town (below) .
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Questions are also starting to be raised about the effects of the 2008 earthquake that shook the region on the underlying stability of the land, about the effects of logging that have denuded mountainsides, and of the dam and mining projects that are part of the economic development push in the west but which are said to have caused an increase in avalanches and landslides. The 1998 floods led to greater environmental protections, particularly in the Yangtze River floodplain. Will this years disasters do the same in the mountains of the west?
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The rescue effort at the landslide in Zhouqu in Gansu (above) has turned into a grim recovery operation with the official death toll passing 700. More than 1,200 survivors have been pulled from the rubble and mud. Rescuers continue to search for others but hope is starting to fade for the hundreds still missing. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has urged that the search continue until every last survivor is found.
Meanwhile, soldiers have blasted through the barrier dam that blocked the Bailong River upstream from the town, alleviating the risk of a second inundation from the river bursting its banks. The imminent threat is from the collapse of more buildings weakened by several days of flooding following the initial flood.
The disaster in Zhouqu takes the total death toll so far this year from the rain induced flooding and landslides to more than 2,000.
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Rescuers are facing mud and sludge more than a meter thick as they continue to search for survivors from the deadly landslide that engulfed the town of Zhouqu (above) in Gansu at the weekend. The death toll has been raised at least 337 with 1,148 missing, many feared buried, making it the worst individual disaster caused by the torrential rains that have battered the country this year. “There were some, but very few, survivors,” one resident told the Associated Press. “Most of them are dead, crushed into the earth.”
Initial landslides caused by the rains swept mud and debris into the Bailong River, blocking it upstream of the town and creating a 3 kilometer long lake. When this overflowed early Sunday morning, it sent waves of water, mud and rocks cascading down the narrow river valley, washing away sleeping villages before hitting the town. With more rainfall in the forecast, draining the barrier lake is a priority.
Some 40,000 residents have been evacuated. Authorities have flown in more than 5,000 tents to provide temporary shelter for survivors. Some 4,500 troops are helping the rescue and relief effort. Military helicopters are flying the seriously injured to hospitals in the provincial capital Lanzhou.
Work has started on a new high-speed rail line between Chengdu and Lanzhou. When completed in 2014/2015 it will cut travel time between the Sichuan and Gansu provincial capitals from 20 hours to four.
As well as being a shovel-ready infrastructure project to set free stimulus yuan–the line will cost 62 billion yuan ($9 billion), state media reports– the line is part of a grand plan to open up transport links to western China (and beyond), shipping Xinjiang’s oil, coal and cotton east and tourists in the opposite direction; the route will pass through the Minshan Mountains, home to giant pandas, and Jiuzhaigou and Gannan, both popular destinations.
China's Rail Network
Work is expected to start later this year on other new rail lines connecting to the Chengdu-Lanzhou railway, including Lanzhou-Chongqing, Baoji-Chengdu, Sichuan-Qinghai and Sichuan-Tibet. These complement the high-speed inter-city lines being built in the east.
Overall, China has earmarked 2 trillion yuan ($300 billion) of spending up to 2020 to improve its rail system, particularly for freight, expanding the network from 78,000 kms of track to 120,000 kms.