IN ANOTHER YEAR, the worst flood season in more than two decades would be a significant crisis to test authorities. The damage to crops and livestock from June and July’s torrential rains, precipitation that was far heavier than usual, is substantial, and a reported 3.7 million people have been displaced. But the economic loss — put by state media at 145 billion yuan ($21 billion) as of the end of July — is not as severe as that caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Yangtze and its tributaries in Hubei, Jiangxi and Anhui in central and eastern China are the areas worst affected by the flooding, with the response in Jiangxi said to be on ‘a war footing’. Thanks to improved flood control and emergency management, however, the death toll has been relatively light for the scale of the disaster: 158 people dead or missing, according to the latest available figures.
Early in June, a 1960s-era dam in Guangxi collapsed under the pressure of building floodwaters, raising concerns about the safety of hundreds of other similarly aged dams, and for the massive and iconic Three Gorges Dam (seen above) on the Yangtze (which is of later vintage, having not been completed until 2003).
Those concerns were amplified by state media reports of non-critical parts of the dam becoming slightly deformed’, although the main structure was said to be intact. Its collapse would be a disaster not only in human terms for the millions of people who live downstream, but also the Party. Its flood gates have had to be raised repeatedly to ease the pressure — and again three times this week ahead of a renewed surge in floodwaters expected on Friday — but so far, so good.
None the less, the impact on agriculture is being reflected in the pick-up in inflation in July as food prices rise. More than two-thirds of China’s rice is grown in the Yangtze basin, and this year’s crop would have been near to harvest when it was flooded.
Authorities have been releasing crops from strategic reserves both to ensure adequate supply and to keep a lid on inflation. This includes more than 60 million tons of rice, 50 million tons of corn and more than 760,000 tons of soybeans, surpassing the volumes released during the whole of 2019.
Food price inflation-driven civil discontent remains authorities’ perennial concern.