Three Gorges Probe

Is China ready for more floods?

BBC News Online
January 5, 2006

Some experts believe China’s big-dam projects are an inefficient use of the funds set aside for flood prevention, BBC News Online reports. ‘Give the people in the villages more money,’ it quotes water specialist Wang Weiluo as saying.

¬†For centuries the great Yangtze and Yellow rivers have broken their banks, causing huge loss of life and misery for the inhabitants of large parts of China. Floods have now hit the normally arid north-west, with several hundred people dead and many more missing in what is described as the worst such crisis there for more than a century. The flood is being seen as a prelude to a new devastating season, and some fear a repeat of the disasters of the late 1990s when thousands were killed. Though much of the flooding is the consequence of the natural cycle of seasonal change, international aid and donor organisations have in the past criticised China for exacerbating the problem with extensive deforestation and reclamation of wetlands for farmers’ use. At the time, China invested in civil defence, and launched an environmental programme designed to deal with the man-made causes. This time round, there are indications that some of these measures may be paying off. Community response Aid agencies say there is as yet no comparison between the current floods and those of 1998 and 1999, though they are prepared to launch an international appeal for assistance should the need arise. But Denis McClean, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, told BBC News Online Chinese people were now responding more effectively to such crises at community level. They are trained to take heed of early warning signals and move to higher ground in a timely fashion. As many as 18 million volunteers can be mobilised to deal with rescue and clearance work. "Lots of lessons have been learned," Mr McClean said. "The Chinese Red Cross is better prepared to deal with massive displacements of people." He was also hopeful that the environmental programme was having an effect. "One can only believe that after the catastrophe of 1998-9 these measures are being put into practice," he said.

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