Floods in China

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Floods in China: As if someone had opened the floodgates

Cities cut off, narrow river courses: Floods occur more often in China than in other regions of the world. After many years of relative calm, extreme flood damage again occurred in the summer of 2016.

The Chinese authorities had already issued warnings in the spring about an increased risk of flooding in the central and lower Yangtze regions. The last major flood catastrophe had been in 1998, when floodwaters in the Yangtze and Songhua rivers kept all of China on tenterhooks for several weeks. The special feature of the 2016 flood: the rains during the 2016 flood season in the central Yangtze were up to 10% higher than in 1998. And the floods were a combination of many different, intensive, and often local, individual events. Critical flood levels occurred in a total of 363 small and medium-sized rivers.

The most serious period of flooding started in mid-June in central and southern China. For almost a month, the provinces in these regions were plagued by rainstorms, thunderstorms and hail for almost a month during the “plum rain” (“mei-yu”) season. There were landslides in many places, and dykes were breached at 179 points. The city of Wuhan, which is particularly prone to flooding because of its location at the confluence of the Yangtze and Han rivers and is an example of the unbridled growth of large cities, experienced one of the most spectacular localised events. From 1 to 6 July, precipitation in the city’s four districts was between 930 and 1087 mm, a new record.

Following the severe floods of 1998, China launched an extensive flood protection programme. Over the following ten years alone, the government invested more than 620 billion yuan (US$ 87bn). As a result, the impact of the annual floods has diminished, even though values have risen sharply. The primary focus of these efforts was on river flooding. However, the measures adopted were not enough to cope with the consequences of the torrential local rainfall.


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