China floods: At least 141 dead or missing, millions evacuated

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Chinese authorities issued more flood warnings for China’s Yangtze River on Friday (Jul 17), as heavy rains were forecast in provinces in the country’s south.

At least 141 people have died or are missing and more than 2.2 million relocated due to floods across southern China since June, state-run CGTN reported.

Water levels in the middle and lower portions of the Yangtze River have continued to rise, the official Xinhua news agency reported the Minister for Water Resources E Jingping saying on Thursday.

This followed 12 days of the water in parts of the Yangtze River and its tributaries exceeding alert levels, said the minister.

Villages in flood reservoir area sacrificed to save big cities

At 11:00 p.m. on July 12, the Wuhan section of the Yangtze River had the biggest flood since the beginning of the year, with water levels reaching 28.77 meters, exceeding the warning level by 1.47 meters, making it the 4th highest water level in history, the flow rate reached 56,000m3/s. The peak of the flood occurred at Jiujiang River station at 6:00 pm on the 12th. The flood, with a water level of 22.81m, was 2.81m above the warning, the 2nd highest level ever, and the corresponding flow reached the 61800 m3/s.

In times of flooding, the Chinese government uses the practice of diverting flood waters into so-called flood reservoirs in order to protect major cities from being flooded. A flood reservoir area is an area opened to manually divert flood water to a reservoir when the water level in a river or lake rises to the flood warning line.

Before the floods hit, some Chinese citizens told the media that officials might release floodwaters at the expense of six districts around Wuhan city to avoid flooding of Wuhan. Since July 12, the local government has asked all people in the flood reservoir area to evacuate, but neither ways of providing necessities nor specific relocation locations have been specified. Residents do not know where to evacuate, so they can only flee for their lives by their own means.

On July 12, the floodgate of Wang Lake in Yangxin County, about 145 kilometers downstream of Wuhan City, was opened. On the morning of July 13, the Honghu Lake, located about 170 kilometers upstream of Wuhan City, was opened in an emergency. Videos uploaded on July 14 showed Honghu Lake’s water level was rising rapidly, leading to emergency relocation of villages in the flood reservoir area. At the location where the Huoshenshan Hospital was constructed during the pandemic in Wuhan, a whole village was relocated. Huangmei County, a small town about 180 kilometers downstream of Wuhan and 110 kilometers upstream of Poyang Lake, where extreme flooding is still ongoing, also witnessed its outer continental bank being submerged . Residents said the government did not give advance notice to allow residents to evacuate. Sandbags were removed to let the water in before people could grab any personal belongings.

The city of Jiujiang in Jiangxi province has adopted the same approach as Wuhan to keep the city from flooding at the expense of regions in flood reservoir areas. On July 12, Poyang Lake District issued three emergency notices in succession, requesting 3 surrounding towns to evacuate. Residents of Jiujiang’s Mianchuanzhen town and Jiujiang’s Jiangzhou Town were asked to evacuate by July 12 and July 13 respectively.

Many people may wonder why doesn’t the government notify citizens before discharging the water, as it resulted in immense damages and losses when Yichang city in Wuhan was almost completely submerged when the three gorges dam was secretly discharged in June. According to China’s regulations, for a temporary breach of the embankment to divert the flood, which falls under the category of emergency avoidance, the government is not responsible for compensation. If the government gives advance notice of a flood discharge, it will need to face legal compensation issues, but if it releases the floodwater without warning, the excuse of “Natural disasters” would be exempt from compensation. In addition, China’s insurance system is not well developed, most rural houses and property are not insured, and one’s vehicle insurance does not cover damages caused by floods. At the end of the day, the residents will have to bear all the losses themselves.

Someone once asked an official privately why he did not inform the villagers in advance of the flood discharge so that they could relocate their property. He said, “How can this be? Once you give them a notice, will the citizens agree? They’ll demand compensation for crops, livestock, graves, and without tens of billions of dollars it cannot be settled, but if it’s a “natural disaster”, give them a few packets of instant noodles and they will be extremely thankful”.

China flooding, 0.4 USD aid per capita received in Xi County

Since the formation of the No.1 Yangtze flood peak on July 2nd, the Three Gorges Dam has been discharging flood water in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River due to continued heavy rainfall.

The water level of the river section below the Three Gorges Dam and the Dongting Lake in Hunan Province and Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province all exceeded the water level warning.

Many cities in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River are still suffering from heavy flooding. Wuhan was flooded on July 4th, and at 8:00am on July 13th, data showed that the water level in Wuhan broke the historic record of 28.33 meters set in 1931.

Beginning from July 6th, Jiangxi province has been in a state of emergency. The water level in Poyang Lake has exceeded the alarm level, even surpassing the water levels of the 1998 China flood. Even worse, the water levels are still on the rise, the water level in Poyang County has already exceeded the alarm level by over 3 meters.

The so-called “flood reservoir areas” are mainly levees and dikes built to protect large cities from inundation when floods reach a certain level. After the water rises, these embankments need to be blown up to divide the flood, and the people living in their path need to abandon their homes and properties.

On July 12th, Jiujiang city in Jiangxi province issued an emergency notice asking children and seniors of Jiangzhou town, to evacuate by July 13th. People that are 18 to 65 years old must stay and defend against the flood.

At 8:00am on July 12th, the water level of Lake Taihu at the lower reaches of the Yangtze River rose to almost 4 and a half meters, exceeding the warning level by 0.65 meters.

China’s official media Xinhua reported that 38.73 million people in 27 provinces, regions and cities were affected by the flood, resulting in 141 deaths and missing persons, 29,000 houses collapsed and the floods damaged over 3 and a half million hectares of farmland (an area equivalent to two Beijing) and the floods have resulted in direct economic losses of more than 82.2 billion RMB or ($11.74 billion USD).

On July 13th, China’s Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Emergency Management provided 600 million yuan of disaster relief funds to Jiangxi, Anhui, Hubei, Hunan, and Chongqing. A relief fund document circulating online of She County in Anhui Province, which has a permanent population of 419,000, shows that it received a total fund of 1,200,000 yuan, which is only around 2.86 RMB (or 40 cents USD) per capita.

Is it possible to rely on social assistance? Most charities in China are government-led and have lost the trust of many people over the years. For example, in recent years, the Red Cross Society of China, the largest charity in China, has had a series of corruption and incidents such as mismanagement which greatly tarnished its reputation.

After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed nearly 90,000 people, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post revealed that the Red Cross Society of China had admitted to embezzling more than 11million USD in donations for other projects.

In June 2011, Guo Meimei, a Chinese Internet celebrity, showed off her Maserati car and luxury bags on Chinese social media Weibo. As she called herself “the manager of the Red Cross Society of China,” netizens began digging into her background, including the Red Cross Society of China and a number of officials and celebrities. The incident has raised long-standing questions among the Chinese public about government-run public service institutions, including the Red Cross Society of China, and about the corruption of officials.

During the coronavirus pandemic, it was revealed that a large amount of personal protective equipment donated by the Chinese community was backlogged at the Red Cross in Hubei province. It was also reported that Red Cross staff made life difficult for those who came to collect supplies. Wuhan Union Hospital doctors were supposed to receive the equipment but the masks were distributed to government officials instead. It was later revealed that the families of the government officials were selling the donated masks at an inflated price.

Source: China observer

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