Raining on cities' GDP parades

Updated: 2013-08-07 09:20

By Gao zhuyuan (China Daily)

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While they are happy to splash the cash on what can be seen above ground, local governments have adopted a penny-pinching approach to the underground infrastructure that is necessary.

Unfortunately, the folly of this approach only comes to the fore when flood-induced economic losses and casualties make the headlines.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently urged cities to assess the risk of flooding and build sound drainage systems within a 10-year period, and a few cities have come around to the idea of investing in their drainage systems. Guangzhou plans to spend 25 billion yuan on a deep-tunnel drainage project, the first in the Chinese mainland, to prevent urban flooding and sewage overflow pollution.

Such a project will not lead to immediate gains, and there are doubts that the huge investment will pay off in the long run. Guangzhou's plan might also be too expensive an example for others to follow at a time when local government debts have become a prominent concern, but the accumulated debts accruing from the underdevelopment of urban drainage systems must be cleared sooner rather than later.

Something more than structural measures is also needed to improve our cities' flood preparedness. Even an engineering marvel such as Chicago's deep-tunnel project is now being called into question, as a record-breaking deluge in April has prompted the residents of Chicago to complain that apart from building an expensive labyrinth of sewers, the city should have spent more on restoring and maintaining natural green systems to fix the chronic problem.

The widespread use of impervious surfaces and the loss of wetlands in the process of urbanization have the potential to smother and expose our cities to greater risks of urban flooding.

Urban sewers will become a touchstone for the government's bid to implement a new type of urbanization, as it moves more than 200 million people out of the countryside into urban areas.

The author is a writer with China Daily. gaozhuyuan@chinadaily.com.cn

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