Tag Archives: Zhouqu

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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Rains Return As Disease And New Landslide Fears Grow

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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Zhouqu Landslide Death Toll Mounts

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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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Thick Mud Hampers Zhouqu Rescue Efforts

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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.

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