Floods reveal need for improved disaster prevention

Updated: 2013-08-29 21:04


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HARBIN - Flooding of the Heilong River in northeast China has inundated houses and farmland over the past couple weeks, revealing the need for urgent improvements in flood control.

Thanks to early mass evacuations, the floods resulted in few casualties.

However, the breach of embankments along the river in several sections revealed that flood control standards at such facilities are in need of urgent improvements after years of a lack of investment.

"Sand dams drenched by floodwater are just like soft persimmons. Their width and height differ from place to place," said Wang Xiankui, the Communist Party chief of Heilongjiang Province, after recently inspecting the river's flood conditions.

Heilongjiang, home to large swathes of fertile land, is one of the country's major grain producers.

The embankment standards in the province are low, said Wang. "Our modern agriculture has seen fast development, yet construction of water facilities has been neglected."

The rainstorm-triggered floods left 85 dead and 105 missing as of August19 in Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning provinces in northeast China. Worst hit was Fushun city in Liaoning, where 76 were killed and 88 others remain missing after a flood hit the area on August 16.

"The floods in northeast China showed the poor disaster-prevention abilities in agriculture and townships," said Chang Xiuze, a professor of economic studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Prevention and relief for natural disasters, including floods, drought and earthquakes, are important tasks which cannot be neglected during China's development process, said Chang.

A prolonged drought also hit several provinces in southern China this summer, leading to serious shortages of drinking water for millions of people and destruction of large areas of cropland.

"Drought in the south of the country and floods in the north may well occur again in the future," said Li Weijing, a climate studies scientist with the China Meteorological Administration, after analysing the country's distribution of rainfall since the 1950s.

"Weather instability is normal and periodic changes of weather conditions do exist," said Cheng Xiaotao, an expert with the National Committee for Disaster Reduction.

With rapid urbanization, riverbed encroachment due to construction is common, which has raised the risk of flooding, according to Cheng.

More than 70 percent of human casualties from floods in China in recent years were caused by mountain torrents and subsequent geological disasters, said Cheng, also an engineer with the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research.

Improvements in the flood prevention and disaster relief systems, the treatment of small and medium-sized rivers and an early warning mechanism for floods are urgently needed, he added.

As of Aug 21, floods have left 915 people dead or missing this year in China, official statistics showed.

In the past, floods seldom hit the north and authorities paid little attention to flood prevention in rural and urban construction. But new trends call for more efforts in flood prevention, said Xu Guangjian, a professor of public administration at Renmin University of China.

In July 2012, the deadliest downpour in six decades killed 77 people in Beijing, prompting the municipal government to reinforce the city's flood prevention infrastructure and early warning systems.

Flood prevention should be considered in the construction of roads and subways, while excessive encroachment on waterways should be banned, said Xu.

Water pollution and an increasing industrial demand for water also aggravate the drought and water shortage problems, analysts said.

Cheng also suggested a flood risk appraisal be carried out across the country as early as possible to provide advice in construction planning.

More investment should be poured into the construction of water facilities, he added.