Three Gorges Probe

China braces defences against floods

Xinhua
November 17, 2000

‘The flood-control works in some areas are like old men suffering from the passing of years. We have taken actions to cure them, while we should not expect to make them healthy young men in one day,” said a top Yangtze flood-control official.

Chengdu: For Wu Jishan, head of the remote village of Xinchang on the Qujiang River in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, July 8 in the year of 2005 is imprinted on his memory.

Forty-eight families lost their homes and 70 percent of the farmland at Xinchang was destroyed by flooding of the furious Qujiang River, a branch of the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.

“For a village like Xinchang, where the annual income per person is around 2,000 yuan (250 U.S. dollars), the 9-million-yuan economic loss caused by such a destructive flood was unbearable,” Wu said.

Besides the weather, poor flood defence facilities were blamed for the scale of the devastation.

“The dam to safeguard the village, which was built several decades ago, can barely withstand a single blow from a roaring river let alone an unexpected mud-rock flow, ” said Wu.

The experience of Wu’s village is common in the flood-haunted country.

Floods kill about 1,500 people and cause huge economic loss in China every year, although the country has spent more than 200 billion yuan (25 billion U.S. dollars) on water conservation works and reinforced the embankments along the mainstream since 1998, when a major flood of the Yangtze claimed 1,320 lives.

In 2005 alone, 116 cities along the flooding-prone Yangtze, China’s longest, were hit by floods, causing the 56 deaths and a direct economic loss of 41.8 billion yuan (5.23 billion U.S. dollars), according to the Flood Relief Headquarters of the Yangtze River.

The ability to combat floods of the water conservation projects in many Chinese cities, especially those along the tributaries of the large rivers or around large lakes, remains a big problem as the flood-control facilities have been out of action for years, said Shi Guangqian, deputy director of the headquarters.

Most embankments in these areas were built in the 1980s to low standards and have been damaged to different degrees by floods over the past few years, said Shi.

In addition, some local governments did not pay due attention to this issue and renovation of the flood-control projects gave way to ‘more important things’, like industrial development, said Shi.

“The flood-control works in some areas are like old men suffering from the passing of years. We have taken actions to cure them, while we should not expect to make them healthy young men in one day,” said Shi.

Strengthening construction of flood-control system tops the water resources-related work in China’s 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), according to the Ministry of Water Resources.

The Chinese government will invest more than 150 billion yuan (18.75 billion U.S. dollars) in flood-control projects along the major rivers and large and medium-sized cities and big reservoirs, said Gu Hao, spokesman of the ministry.

In addition, a gigantic dyke reinforcement project on the Yangtze River, which would substantially improve the flood control capability of the Yangtze valley, is expected to be completed before the flood season this year in June, said Gu.

The project, which began in 1999 and cost 30.8 billion yuan (3.85 billion US dollars), together with the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest water control work on the Yangtze, will free the river from the threat of major floods like the 1998 flooding, said Gu.

The city of Wanyuan, where Wu’s village was located, also plans to fortify the embankments, which includes seepage prevention, dyke reinforcement and bank protection, said Chen Zhonghua, secretary of the city’s committee of the Communist Party of China.

“We plan to invest 50 million yuan (6.25 million U.S. dollars) in the project. We are trying to raise more money by attracting investment in the water conservancy works from outside,” said Chen.

This is definitely good news for the village of Xinchang, wherea 2-kilometer-long dyke is in desperate need of repair.

“Once the government funds come, we will try to repair it as soon as possible. We can not withstand any more floods,” said Wu Jishan.

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