"Once-in-a-Century" Rains Displace Millions in China

BEIJING, China, July 23, 2007 (ENS) - Each summer, flooding rains sweep down China's river basins, forcing people from their homes, destroying businesses, and carrying crops away. This year has brought "once-in-a-century" rains and floods, Chinese President Hu Jintao said Sunday.

President Hu Jintao visits Chongqing. (Photo courtesy Xinhua)
After a month of heavy rains, flood warnings are being issued in many parts of China as more heavy rain is forecast for the southwestern, central and eastern regions over the next few days.

The Central Meteorological Station forecast today that heavy rain would hit Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hubei, Henan and Anhui provinces overnight and on Tuesday.

Flood control authorities in eastern Anhui province issued an emergency notice today warning local authorities that water might break through soaked dykes designed to control the swollen rivers.

On the weekend, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the southwest municipality of Chongqing where the heaviest rainfall in years came down in mid-July. The resulting floods, landslides and mud-rock flows killed 42 in the city over the past week, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

"You have gone through a lot of hardship," the president told Chongqing residents, Xinhua reports. "The once-in-a-century rains and floods have destroyed your homes and washed away your belongings. I feel sad as you all, and we must have the determination and courage to get over the disaster."

The president directed local officials to provide enough meal, clothes, accommodation, medication and clean water to the public, and to spare no effort to rebuild roads and recover drinking water and electricity services.

Flooding has displaced millions from their homes. (Photo courtesy RSCS)

Since mid-June, more than 100 million Chinese have been affected by the rains and flooding. Officials say 425 people have died, while 110 are missing.

An estimated 3.6 million people have been forced from their homes.

The government is mobilizing nearly 380,000 people, including People's Liberation Army troops, to provide relief.

China's Ministry of Health Monday ordered local health departments to intensify disease prevention in flood-stricken areas.

The ministry said in a notice that provincial health departments must report their disease monitoring results every day and to ensure that no fatal epidemic diseases break out.

The ministry has allocated 39.88 million yuan (US$5.24 million) to the flood-hit areas for disease control.

According to statistics on the ministry's website, 980 counties in 23 Chinese regions have been affected by various rainstorms and floods since the middle of May.

On July 18, the Ministry of Health sent four teams to flood-stricken areas including Jiangsu and Anhui to assist medical services.

The Red Cross Society of China, RCSC, is also responding to the immediate needs of flood victims in 13 provinces, providing supplies worth over 10 million yuan (US$1.4 million).

Red Cross Society of China officials visit flood victims. (Photo courtesy RCSC)
The RCSC launched a national appeal for its ongoing flood relief operations in Beijing on July 18. seeking supplies and financial assistance to further help victims in these and other regions.

In Anhui alone, more than 300,000 people are facing shortages of clean water. As the rains continue to beat down, concerns are mounting that displaced residents will have to cope with long-term food shortages due to destruction of farmland.

The highest death toll has been in Sichuan Province, where at least 42 people have died and 26 others are missing. Flooding and landslides have affected nearly 1.1 million people and caused the evacuation of more than 300,000 people, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Director of the National Meteorological Center, Jiao Meiyan blames climate change for the torrential rains in Sichan and the city of Chongqing, which both experienced drought last summer.

Jiao said Sichuan and Chongqing came under a strong subtropical high pressure belt in 2006, which caused high temperatures. But the belt has been in a more eastern position this year, which made it much easier for water vapor from the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea to accumulate over Sichuan and Chongqing, he said.

Water pours through sluices at Three Gorges Dam. (Photo courtesy Xinhua)

He rejected rumors that the Three Gorges Dam was in any way to blame for the unusual weather.

The highest flood peak this flood season on the Yangtze River passed through the Three Gorges Dam on Sunday, project engineers said.

The third flood this season caused by continuous rain upstream since mid-July, poured into the reservoir in central China's Hubei Province.

Zhao Yunfa, a senior engineer with China Yangtze Three Gorges Project Corporation told Xinhua that 17 sluice gates have been opened to keep water level below the designed 144 meters and to ease the flood pressure on the mid-lower reaches.

At present, the project is working normally, said Zhao.

The Three Gorges reservoir, the world's largest hydroelectric project, was built on China's longest river, the Yangtze, to prevent floods and generate electricity.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.