The Village of Taitou
Early December, four months after the flood, construction workers were trying to rebuild the terraces at western border the village of Taitou, where a destructive torrent had swept through.
The spate of water, brought by a long-lasting torrential rainfall during 18-21 July 2016 that widely affected northern and central China, also attacked the community at the eastern part of the village and claimed eight lives with another three missing.
To the villagers, the flood on 19 July 2016 was unusual because Taitou is located at Jingxing, a county at the western region of the city of Shijiazhuang in Hebei province, with dry climate and little precipitation in average years.
The unexpected heavy rainstorm hit not only Jingxing, but also the counties nearby, Xingtai and Handan, leading to 9.2 million people stranded, 130 people died and 110 missing in Hebei province.
Recalling the disaster, the elderly people in Taitou were still shocked and distressed. As described by the old villagers, lives and properties were “scratched away” by the deluge.
Life after the flood was hard for the residents. There once were 30-40 stores in the community, however, only half of them were managed to carry on their business after the incident.
Chen Lijuan, born and raised in Taitou remembered that the commercial street was the busiest place in the village.
The food stores at the commercial street was open again. Liu Mingyuan owned one of them. He said that the damage by the flood cost him about a few hundred thousands Chinese yuan.
Liu Guoyuan once had a garment-processing factory in the village hiring around 20 workers. He could do nothing but laid off his staff and sold all the sewing machines, which were wrecked by the mudslide. Then he went to a southern city of China with his wife and became a migrant worker.
The flood had devastated villager Xu Yueting’s life. He lost his wife, daughter and grandson in the tragic incident.
Reconstruction of road, park, and bridge were going on in Taitou in this winter. According to a reporting from Caixin.com, in late 1960s, villagers started to reclaim an area from the dried out river near the community. It had been 20 years since the previous flooding occurred in Taitou. It was said that the lack of prevention and protection measures had made the situation even more adverse.
The Deadly Water
How frail and helpless can human beings be when confronting the nature?
In autumn 2016, Ministry of Civil Affairs of the PRC published the report on the national natural disaster. From January to September 2016, natural disasters resulted in 190 million people afflicted, 1317 people dead and 319 people missing in China. The casualties are 12% more than the five-year average.
Among different kind of natural disasters, floods brought about the worst hit to China in 2016, killing 1162 people, leaving more than 110 million people afflicted (58% of all the people affected by all kinds of natural disasters) and 6 million stranded.
There were 28 out of 31 provinces and autonomous regions in China hit by floods.
The worst ones happened in Hebei, Hubei, Henan and Hunan province, during June and July.
Wuhan, the City by the Yangtze River
It was raining lingeringly in Southern China in Springtime 2016. The flood control might be a grim battle, warned by China Meteorological Administration in March.
The flood period of China in 2016 started on Mar 21, 11 days earlier than average years.
In late June, a long-lasting heavy rain hit the mid and lower stream of Yangtze River, leaving swamps, landslide and mudslide in 11 provinces.
Wuhan, a city at the midstream of Yangtze River, was affected very severely with an unprecedentedly heavy precipitation. Roads and rails were blocked; the only means of transport was inflatable kayak.
To the residents in Wuhan, it might not be a surprise to see a flooding city in summertime. As stated in the local chronicles, Wuhan, with her civilizations and economy being nurtured by the water of Yangtze River, suffers from inundations year after year during rainy season.
The altitude of Wuhan is below the altitude of Yangtze River, leading to an unsuccessful natural drainage. While rapid urban development that destroys natural vegetation, reclaim ponds for more land, alters river stream and withdraws underground water also exacerbates the condition.
Shahu is the second-large lake in the city. When comparing the aerial satellite photos of the area from 2000 to 2016, it was found that the surface area of the lake had been reduced gradually year by year. Real estate construction site also appeared on the reclaimed “new land”.
In 2013 June, the municipal government of Wuhan had promised to invest 13 billion yuan on strengthening the city’s drainage system and waste water treatment plant in 3 years’ time.
The city swamped again in 2016.
Flood Disasters: Natural or man-made?
Water nurtures civilizations and benefits cities. Water could also be destructive.
China is one of the countries most affected by floods, according to the book Rainstorm and Flood, published by the country’s meteorological department. It is stated in the publication that half of the county’s population resides in flood risk area.
A report from the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters of China revealed that floods killed 280 thousands of people in the country from 1950 to 2014. On average, 4327 people died in flooding disaster per year. After millennium, more than 130 million people were affected by flood per year. China has a population of around 1.3 billion.
According to the aforementioned publication, the flood hazard is becoming more severe and the hazard area had been expanding based on statistics. The book also explained why flooding is so frequent and extreme in China: geographically speaking, the country overlays 6 climate zones, connects with ocean, and has a complex terrain. All these give rise to a very strong monsoon weather and excessive rainfall in the country.
In addition, the extensive river systems in China also aggravate the inundation in the region.
Source: Rainstorm and Flood, cma.gov.cn
El Niño and 1998 China Floods
In 1998, several massive flooding caused by torrential rain hit a large area of China. The hardest hit occurred in Hunan, Hebei, Jiangxi, Anhui, and Jiangsu. According to official, 1562 were killed and 84 million stranded.
The similarity between the year of 2016 and 1998 was that both years came after a strong El Niño event, which brings extreme weathers and series of torrential rain to the territory
The official had warned in early 2016 that the floods in Yangtze River Basin were very likely to be as hazardous as the ones in 1998.
The China Meteorological Administration published in late 2016 the precipitation data of the year, showing that the annual national average rainfall reached 711 mm, the highest since 1951 when the relevant meteorological record was established. The Yangtze River Basin recorded a highest rainfall since 1954; 184 counties and cities recorded their highest accumulated precipitation.
The Disasters that Went Unnoticed
The massive flooding in 2016 drew a great deal of attention from the public. While floods happened in localities often went unnoticed even though they brings devastating impact to the neighbourhood.
A team from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences had published a research on rainstorm and flood hazards in 1991 to 1994. After classifying each flood into five levels, namely very small, small, medium, serious and very serious, by assessing the affected area, casualty and economic cost of the inundation, the team found that most of the flooding disasters in China are small and very small, contributing to 83.2% of total occurrence of floods in the period of study. Very serious floods only take up 2%.
——Flood disasters are very common in China, but “most of the small and medium disasters are left unnoticed”.
- Area of Crop Affected (thousand ha)
- Directed Economic Loss (hundred million)
- Collasped Buildings (10 thousand)
Source: Bulletin of Flood and Drought Disasters in China 2014
“Most of the small and medium disaster are left unnoticed,” said She Lei, director of disaster prevention and management at One Foundation, “but it doesn’t mean that the impact is negligible to those flood victims.”
Sha Lei and his colleagues were working on ground as an NGO rescue team in Hubei and Hebei this summer. In Wuhan city, provincial capital of Hubei, they helped relocate residents before the swamp. He noticed that there is room for improvement for the hygiene condition in the resettlement site.
Working for ten years in the field of disaster management, Sha Lei found that the public is paying more attention to how humanistic care can be done in disaster relief.
He also observed that self-help ability had been weakened due to the hollowing -out of rural area under the trend of urbanization – many young adults leave their villages and poured into the cities.
Disaster relief and management had to focus more on how to provide specific care services to children and elderly people in the flood area, suggested Sha Lei.
Taitou is a village of Shijiazhuang, the China's provincial capital of the worst air pollution and PM2.5 concentration, has to temporary shut down its mineral factories in winter. This makes the lives of the village after the flood is even harder.