Beijing marks one year since devastating floods

Mourning for 79 who died in one day as critics question if Beijing has done enough to prepare for another deluge

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 July, 2013, 4:43am

Beijing yesterday marked the first anniversary of devastating floods that claimed 79 lives in a day by mourning victims and holding a large-scale disaster relief drill in the hardest-hit Fangshan district.

It was the capital's worst deluge in decades and caused about 11.6 billion yuan (HK$14.5 billion) in economic losses. But what has changed in the past year? And is Beijing better prepared for another such onslaught of rain and flooding?

There has been an ongoing effort over the past year to upgrade the city's notoriously bad drainage system. But experts and residents near "rainstorm- vulnerable" parts of the city are still voicing concerns about the adequacy of the capital's flood-control mechanisms, particularly as Beijing saw an average rainfall of 247.3mm between June 1 and July 15 this year. It was the largest average since 1999 and 79.6 per cent more than the average during that time period in the past decade, according to the official People's Daily.

And the major flood season didn't even start until Saturday. So, to help cope with whatever Mother Nature dishes out, the municipal government has been busy since May upgrading drainage systems in 21 low-lying areas, such as under flyovers, the Beijing Morning Post reports. Other upgrades reportedly included increasing the capacities of pump stations, in an effort to minimise street flooding.

Fangshan authorities have also spent 34 million yuan on flood-control facilities over the past year, and 43 rescue teams have been created to help deal with any flood emergencies that may arise, China News Service reported.

An air siren sounded in the district at 3pm to commemorate those who lost their lives in the mountainous area, and the flood drill was carried out with an emphasis on evacuations.

Measures have also been taken in other parts of the city to prevent flooding. In Chaoyang district, much of the water has been drained from the south moat near the Guangqumen flyover, where an editor at a publishing house drowned last year in his car after it became submerged in three metres of water.

The water level in the moat is now about a metre lower than its usual level, according to a group of students at the University of Science and Technology Beijing, who have been conducting research about the city's flood- control capacity, as well as trying to raise awareness about flood preparedness among residents in areas that are susceptible to floods.

Zhang An , one of the students, said other flood-prevention measures taken by authorities included clearing rocks near moat drains that could disrupt water flow.

The State Council in April ordered all mainland cities to draw up plans and upgrade drainage systems in the coming decade, after several major cities such as Beijing, Wuhan and Chengdu flooded as a result of inadequate infrastructure.

It stipulated that no major casualties should be caused by floods in urban areas.

However, Professor Zhou Yuwen from the Beijing University of Technology's College of Architecture and Civil Engineering said that all existing engineering efforts in the capital were just "painkillers" that could only partially relieve Beijing's flooding problems that have worsened over the past decade as the population has boomed.