Tag Archives: Shaanxi

Death Toll From China’s Rains Hits 70

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.

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BYD Fined, Loses Factories For Illegal Land Use

We now have a decision in the widely watched case of illegal land use involving BYD, the fast-growing compact automaker in which American investor Warren Buffett has a 10% stake. The Ministry of Land and Resources has announced that BYD is being fined 2.95 million yuan ($443,000) and that the seven factories the company built in Xian on 49 hectares of land bought from an economic development agency in Shaanxi, 45 hectares of which was zoned for agriculture, will be confiscated.

Construction had started last December and the plants weren’t due to start production until 2011, so the practical effect on BYD will be to constrict future, not present capacity, and the ruling lifts some uncertainty over the company for investors. In one sense BYD has got off lightly. The ministry had previously hit five companies this year for illegal land use, following a tougher inspection regime launched in February that found examples of illegal land use in more than half the 13 cities examined in an initial spot check and officials cooking the books in four. In those cases buildings were ordered to be demolished, land taken back, executives imprisoned and officials reprimanded. BYD’s high-profile and famous foreign investor may have helped it escape the most severe of those punishments, as least as far as we can tell at this point.

The question now is what sort of signal BYD’s punishment will send, and who will see it. One audience is foreign companies. As the China Law Blog pointed out in response to our preview post on the ruling, “if China is going after Chinese companies for putting manufacturing facilities on agricultural land, what in the world makes you as a foreign company think you will be able to get away with doing the same thing?”

The bigger audience is local officials, at least a dozen of whom in this case have been censured for not exercising effective supervision, including one, the director of the planning department in Shaanxi’s local Land and Resources office, who has been removed from office. It is not unknown for local officials to turn a blind eye to such land-use violations in the drive for economic growth. Companies want to bring new production capacity on stream without waiting for all the red tape to be dealt with, while officials themselves are  judged on their promotion of local economic growth and local governments have become hooked on land sales for their revenue.

The ministry has said that 7,800 hectares of land had been used illegally in the first half of this year, a 14% increase over the same period last year. That reversed the trend of the figures of the past three years. They had shown the issue was shrinking, but that may just have reflected lax enforcement and reporting. The country’s farmland has continued to be eaten up by industrialization and urbanization. It has shrunk by 6% over the past decade to 122 million hectares, barely above the minimum arable land the ministry reckons China needs to be self-sufficient in food. The summer’s floods and the drought earlier in the year in some parts of the country have reduced that margin further. Food self-sufficiency is considered a national security issue. Getting permission to change agricultural land to other uses, particularly commercial uses, is now tougher than ever.

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Cracking Down On Illegal Land Use: The BYD Case

A deadline is drawing near in a case of illegal land use involving BYD, the fast-growing compact automaker in which American investor Warren Buffett has a 10% stake, and which is being widely watched for a potential shift in policy.

In July, the Ministry of Land and Resources said it would rule by Sept. 30 on what to do about the company building seven factories on 49 hectares of land bought from an economic development agency in Shaanxi, 45 hectares of which was zoned for agriculture.

It is not unknown for local officials to turn a blind eye to such zoning violations in the drive for economic growth. Companies want to bring new production capacity on stream without waiting for all the red tape to be dealt with, while officials themselves are  judged on their promotion of local economic growth and local governments have become hooked on land sales for their revenue.

The ministry has said that 7,800 hectares of land had been used illegally in the first half of this year, a 14% increase over the same period last year. That reversed the trend of the figures of the past three years. They had shown the issue was shrinking, but that may just have reflected lax enforcement and reporting. The country’s farmland has continued to be eaten up by industrialization and urbanization. It has shrunk by 6% over the past decade to 122 million hectares, barely above the minimum arable land the ministry reckons China needs to be self-sufficient in food. The summer’s floods and the drought earlier in the year in some parts of the country have reduced that margin further.

The ministry has hit five companies so far this year for illegal land use, following a tougher inspection regime launched in February that found examples of illegal land use in more than half the 13 cities examined in an initial spot check and officials cooking the books in four. In those cases buildings were ordered to be demolished, land taken back, executives imprisoned and officials reprimanded.

None of the companies sanctioned were as high profile as BYD. How tough will the ministry be this time? And what sort of signal will it want its ruling to send?

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More Torrential Rains Raises Disaster Fears In Northeast, North Korea

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Shipping on the Yalu River (above, looking towards North Korea), which marks China’s border with its reclusive neighbor, has been suspended following more torrential rain that has swollen the river to critical levels, and prompted fears of further devastating flooding on both sides of the border. More than 40,000 residents from Dandong at the mouth of the river in Liaoning have been evacuated to higher ground. The Tumen River, which borders North Korea in Jilin, where flooding has already killed at least 74 people and affected 4 million, is similarly swollen, with another round of heavy rain expected imminently.

Red Cross workers in North Korea have reported heavy damage by floods in the east of the country, with buildings, bridges and roads destroyed. North Korean state media reported earlier this week that widespread damage had been caused by this summer’s exceptionally heavy rains that are falling across Asia, with 36,700 acres (14,850 hectares) of farmland destroyed. Flooding in North Korea in 2006 and again in 2007 brought on by torrential rains caused extensive loss of life and damage, particularly to farmland, and raised the prospect of widespread food shortages and a repeat of the famine of the mid-1990s that is said to have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.

The latest official figures put China’s death toll from flood-triggered disasters across the country so far this year at more than 1,450 with another 669 missing. More than 2 million hectares of farmland have been destroyed and 13.5 million hectares of crops damaged. Nearly 1.4 million houses have been destroyed. The total economic loss is now put at more than 275 billion yuan ($40.6 billion), according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Beijing has allocated 195 million yuan for relief work to local governments in the five provinces worst-hit by the rains and typhoons, Jilin, Guangdong, Sichuan, Shaanxi and Guangxi Zhuang.

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China’s Downpours Continue, Flood Levels Critical

The death toll from this year’s rainstorms and floods has now passed 800 with 333 deaths occurring since July 14, Xinhua reports. The human toll is thankfully not as devastating as in the great floods of 1998, when more than 4,000 died, but the numbers affected, estimated to be more than 100 million, the extent of the flooding (see map) and the widespread destruction of farmland, crops and homes may exceed them. Water levels in rivers and dams remain at danger levels, with rivers surging. More rain is in the forecast, especially for Shaanxi, Sichuan and Henan, offering little prospect for relief.

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More military (above, reinforcing the banks of the Changhe River in Jiangxi) have been thrown into the flood prevention effort, while civilians have been drafted to monitor and shore up embankments along the length of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers and their many tributaries. Officials remain on high alert at places like the Three Gorges Dam which is again edging ever nearer to capacity.

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Three Gorges Dam Water Level Rising To Critical Height

The death toll from the flooding that has swept across southern and central China this year has passed 750 with at least a further 367 people missing. Xinhua reported 742 deaths as of Friday morning and another 34 over the past two days. The severity of the current situation was highlighted by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who warned that more serious floods and disasters were in the offing. The International Red Cross notes that water levels in more than 230 rivers have risen above the danger mark and that some areas along the Yangtze River are experiencing their worst flooding in 30 years. In Shaanxi, one of the worst-hit of the 28 affected provinces, the Luofu River, a tributary of the Weihe, burst its banks Saturday, forcing more than 9,000 people to flee their homes. (Map of affected provinces.)

Much attention is now focused on the Three Gorges Dam (below, showing water being discharged on July 21 to lower the level of its reservoir). The dam, built in part to control the seasonal flooding of the Yangtze River, is facing its most severe test since being completed four years ago. With water levels in the upper reaches of the rain-swollen river at their highest since 1987, the dam set a record level of 158 meters on Friday, just 17 meters below capacity. Though the level fell slightly, the flood control authority says it expects that to reverse as torrential rain continues to fall upstream.

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