[picapp align=”left” wrap=”false” link=”term=Yalu+River&iid=9499693″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9499693/motorboat-speeds-past/motorboat-speeds-past.jpg?size=500&imageId=9499693″ width=”500″ height=”336″ /]
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.
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.
[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=china+floods&iid=9386546″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9386546/rescuers-reinforce-the/rescuers-reinforce-the.jpg?size=500&imageId=9386546″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /]
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.
More heavy rain is expected in in the already inundated southern provinces, raising fears of more loss of life from mudslides and flash flooding particularly in Fujian, Hunan and Guangxi. At least 35 people have died and 49 are missing following this week’s seasonal downpours. In Sichuan on Tuesday, 23 people died when a landslide cascaded down a mountain into dormitory tents on a construction site. Across western and southern China, more than 100,000 have been evacuated from their homes, Xinhua reports. In all, more than 150 people have died so far as a result of this year’s rainy season.
Update: More than 2.5 million people across six southern provinces have been affected by this week’s rain and 238,000 had been evacuated from their homes, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said on Thursday, adding that more than 33,000 homes had collapsed or been damaged. The known death toll has risen to 46.
Rain has brought sufficient relief to much of the drought-stricken southwest for China to call off its Grade 2 emergency response. Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi, parts of Chongqing municipality have had modest rains, but Yunnan remains arid, the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief said. Up to 123 million mu (8.3 million hectares) of arable land has been affected by the drought, the most severe in living memory, and 18 million people and 12 million farm animals still remain short of water. At its peak, 50 million people faced water shortages.
Meanwhile a tornado bringing strong winds and heavy rain has hit Chongqing, killing at least 23 people and injuring 160 in the Liangping and Dianjiang districts.
Oxfam, the international aid agency, says more than 10 million people are now affected by the continuing drought in southwestern China and that it has been shipping in water to the region from Hong Kong. Yunnan is hardest hit with 6 million people facing water shortages and 31.5 million mu (2.1 million hectares) of land affected causing crop and livestock losses estimated at more than 10 billion yuan ($1.47 billion). In all, 61.31 million mu (4.1 million hectares) of farmland across Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan and the Chongqing municipality have become arid, and half of it seriously damaged, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Wheat and vegetables have withered in the fields; the region produces an eighth of the country’s grain and is a leading sugarcane and rubber producer. The sugarcane harvest, such as it was this year, is over, with yields down by an estimated 12% over last year. Rubber-tapping is due to start next month, and its yields, too, are expected to be below normal.
The drought is the worst in 60 years. There has been no rain in the region since last October and none is in the immediate forecast. Cloud seeding has triggered a little snow and rain but nothing on the scale needed to relieve the drought, though 2 million yuan has been ear-marked to make make rain or snow artificially. Xinhua reports that water levels in the Yangtze at Chongqing are at record lows. In some parts of the river, ships are stranded and water traffic has ceased.
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.
An official has at last admitted what many parents in Sichuan have believed since the devastating May 12th earthquake: that schools that collapsed could have done so because of shoddy construction and inferior materials.
The admission has weight as it comes from Ma Zongjin, a geologist who chairs the technical committee set up to investigate the quake. “In recent years, a lot of school buildings have been built in China and in this process of rapid development, some problems may exist,” Ma said Beijing. “The structure of the school buildings may not be reasonable enough and the related construction materials may not be strong enough.” Here via Xinhua.
The issue has become a sensitive political matter, with parents of dead children staging protests to demand investigations into why schools collapsed even though nearby buildings were left standing, and officials trying to brush the protests under the rubble. Whether Ma’s comments leads to local and provincial officials being held accountable is a moot point.
The committee also said that the damage to property amounted to $123 billion, and that 18,000 people still missing were unlikely to have survived. That would take the death toll to 88,000.
The death toll from the latest earthquake to rock Sichuan is beginning to mount. Xinhua now says at least 28 people died in the strong quake that hit on Saturday afternoon and destroyed 100,000 houses southeast of Panzhihua City and over the provincial border into Yunnan.
The quake, which Xinhua said was a 6.1 but the U.S. Geological Survey recorded as a 5.7, occurred at the southern end of the fault line of the May 12th quake that left 70,000 dead. Aftershocks are still continuing, including a 5.6 on Sunday, Xinhua reports, here via AFP.
Another earthquake also struck on Saturday, a 5.3 in the remote Tianshan mountains in Xinjiang. No reports yet of casualties.
There were a couple of 6.1 quakes in Sichuan at the beginning of this month. The May quake seems to have increased stress on faults in and around the Sichuan basin, which may explain why there have been so many strong aftershocks since. These could continue for years, says Tom Parsons of the U.S. Geological Survey, whose analysis of the geological effects of the May 12 quake, Stress changes from the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake and increased hazard in the Sichuan basin, was published in Nature earlier this year.
Quake-stricken Sichuan shook again when a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck the province on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicenter was northwest of Guangyuan. The tremor toppled a bridge cutting off a highway, and cut roads to at least three villages, Xinhua said. Initial reports speak of one death and 23 injuries.
May’s 7.9 magnitude quake killed nearly 70,000 people and left 5 million homeless. A few hours before the latest quake, the Olympic torch was paraded through the provincial capital, Chengdu, on the last leg of its journey before it returns to Beijing for the Games’ opening ceremony. Portent?
Sichuan is on high alert as the advent of flood season puts reservoirs, dams and the quake lakes formed after the May 12 earthquake under renewed stress. Emergency evacuation plans have been put into action.
Local weather forecasters issued a flood warning last week, saying summer flooding was likely to be the worst in a decade and would come at the beginning of July, earlier than in past years because of the effect of abnormal rainfall in May that was 30%-70% more than a year earlier.