China’s deadly floods reveal failure to manage disasters, says official

Faults stem from ‘poor urban planning, drainage infrastructure and public administration’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2016, 4:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2016, 9:09am

A succession of disastrous floods have exposed failures in emergency response in cities and villages across the mainland as well as problems in urban planning, drainage infrastructure and public administration.

A senior disaster relief official admitted at a press conference on Tuesday that local officials’ negligence, illegal building in dried-up waterways and ineffective early warning systems were partly to blame for high death toll from last week’s floods in Hebei province, on Beijing’s doorstep.

Since June, 833 people have been killed in floods, typhoons, tornadoes and landslides, while another 233 people remain missing, according to official figures.

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Yang Xiaodong, from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said the figures were the highest since a similar string of natural disasters in 2011. In Hebei alone, 240 people were killed or remained missing after its worst rains since 1990s fell on the normally parched province. Local officials showed a woeful lack of flood-prevention awareness in allowing construction in dried-up rivers and waterways, and many village homes were not built to withstand heavy floods, Yang said.

Some local people built illegally in the dried-up waterways … some officials failed to recognise the severity of the flood risks and failed to implement their duties
Yang Xiaodong, Ministry of Civil Affairs

“Some local people built illegally in the dried-up waterways … some officials failed to recognise the severity of the flood risks and failed to implement their duties, leading to huge losses when the areas were hit by natural disasters,” Yang said.

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Dozens of villagers outside Xingtai died in a flash flood last week after village cadres failed to warn them in time. Angry survivors later confronted local authorities whom they accused of trying to cover up the high death toll.

Cities including Wuhan, Nanjing, Hefei, Beijing and Xian have suffered severe floods in recent weeks, despite government pledges two years ago to build “sponge cities” to make urban areas more able to cope with the intense rainfall that is becoming more frequent as a result of climate change.

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The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development in 2014 issued guidelines along those lines. They called for stormwater drains to be upgraded and new roads built and paved with porous materials to divert as much water as possible.

Parts of Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, remained severely waterlogged after a week of downpours, despite the city investing 13 billion yuan (HK$15 billion) to upgrade drains.