Due to devastating floods, China’s dams are under question


The white haired farmer ran barefoot in his fields at 2 am so that he could reap his crop before the flood. He was one of the tens of thousands of villagers whose homes and farms were being uprooted as a dam to keep the dam open to prevent further damage.

“We have to think about the bigger picture, think of the greater good,” said the farmer, who has recently been identified as Qiao in Anhui Province’s local news video. “Doesn’t it happen every year?”

Kiao spoke to many rural residents of the Yangtze River, whenever large rains occur, they flow into the water. But the year is the worst in decades, with 433 rivers above flood control levels since June, with 33 of them setting records.

The floods have so far affected more than 54 million people, with 3.7 million displaced and 158 dead or missing. According to the Ministry of Emergency Management, rising waters have destroyed 41,000 homes and damaged more than 368,000. Death tolls and battered houses are lower than in previous years, but displacement and economic losses are far greater.

China’s dam – its primary defender against flooding – is raising questions as they face mounting tensions. Last week, the government opened a dam in Anhui. On the same day, more than 16,000 people were trapped in the city of Guzhen in the same province when water rose 10 feet high and broke through the levees.

Fears have intensified since the completion of the dam in 2006, with the Gajruan Three Gorges Dam, where the reservoir has risen 50 feet above the warning level.

Rescue volunteers from Ningbo return to the villagers on 14 July to retrieve items from their flooded homes.

(For Liu Bowen / Times)

Sugarcane drains into the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China.

Sugarcane drains into the Three Gorges Dam on July 17 on the Yangtze River in central China’s Hubei Province.

(Wang Gang / Xinhua)

According to the Ministry of Water Resources, China has more than 98,000 dams than any other nation in the world. Many were built in the 1950s and 60s and suffered from poor maintenance.

“These flood control engineering projects are not panacea,” said Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. When torrential rains occur, he said, the amount of concentrated water in each reservoir poses a risk of serious damage even in small dams.

The heavy storm over the Yangtze River basin is the result of the Western Pacific subtropical high, a pressure system that carries warm air from south to north every summer. The system is unusually strong this year, said Juan Liu, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace East Asia, but it is unclear whether it is caused by climate change.

However, floods are directly linked to man-made problems. China’s over-dependence on dams, excessive construction in low-lying areas, land reclamation in wetlands and lakes, and flooding in cities built with poor drainage systems have all caused damage.

Those who have left their homes also speak of mismanaged flood systems, lack of government accountability and unequal treatment of the rural poor who bear the greatest burden of flooding.

Ma Dacong sits among flooded gear to be disposed of at a tea factory in Shakesian.

Ma Dongong, a waste collector, sits among the flooded gear, disposed of in a tea factory in Shaoxion, Shanghai Province.

(For Liu Bowen / Times)

Soaked tea boxes for sale await disposal at a factory in Shaksian, Anhui province.

Unfit soaked tea boxes for sale at the factory in Shakesian.

(For Liu Bowen / Times)

In Shakesian, a county that suffered the worst flooding in decades this month when an upstream dam overflowed in the middle of the night, residents said they were not given any warning.

“None of this can be reused. All of this is garbage, ”said Ma Dakang, a hapless collector who was removing wooden boxes, damaged machinery of boxed tea at Weiwei Tea and Ghinauh Pahar, one of several tea factories, whose entire stock was soaked in a few minutes. Was spoiled.

Ma calculated more than $ 143,000 in damages to his machines and pickup trucks. But he had only a small business, he said. The factories, which were paying a few thousand dollars each to clean it, had lost much. His workers swept brown-yellow water off the floor; The smell of rot in the air.

Shaoxian, a member of the Shao family in Anhui province, is still trying to clean his store.

Days after the flood, members of the Shao family continue cleaning efforts at their home appliances store in Shaksian, Anhui Province.

(For Liu Bowen / Times)

Workers at home appliance stores try to salvage parts to sell at a discount.

Home appliance store workers try to clean and salvage parts to sell at a discount.

(For Liu Bowen / Times)

“The water came so fast. We could never have imagined it, ”said 49-year-old Shao, co-owner of a home appliance store in Shakesian, who did not give his full name. His relatives and shop staff sat on the steps next to him, covering parts of the kitchen and bathroom equipment they still hoped to sell.

As a small family firm, they had struggled to survive in the first half of the year, when a coronavirus lockdown cut the business. Their warehouses were full, with the outbreak only diminishing as the business resumed a month or two earlier.

They were sleeping when the water rose at about 5 am that day, rushing along the riverbank to swallow pavements and roads.

By 5:30 am, the water was on the layoffs. By 6 am, it was approaching his waist. By 7:30 in the morning, it was 6½ feet high, and factory workers, shop owners and high schoolers who woke up early for their college entrance examinations were climbing the second floors and roofs to escape.

Shao said, “If the government had given us just half a day’s warning, I could have saved from $ 14,000 to $ 28,000.” There was a loss of at least $ 43,000, he said, and there was no government relief when there was specific, buzz in the region.

An employee was washed into the mud by the floor of a flooded supermarket in Shaksian, Anhui province.

An employee was washed into the mud by the floor of a flooded supermarket in Shaksian, Anhui province.

(For Liu Bowen / Times)

Yin Jianfeng stands outside a flooded supermarket managed in Shaksian, Anhui Province.

Yin Jianfeng, outside the supermarket in Shakesian, says a new checkout system and excess stock perished in the flood.

(For Liu Bowen / Times)

Ma said that most of the damage in this year’s floods came from broken dams or dacks, or from the deliberate release of water from the reservoir or the safety of people downstream without warning. Yet the dam is a matter of pride for the Communist Party.

In particular, the Three Gorges Dam has been recognized by the Chinese government as a symbol of national prestige, despite large-scale displacement, environmental destruction, pollution, landslides and earthquake risks that have led to controversies.

From where to release water and on which to choose the asymmetry of the flood. Ma said that China prioritizes the security of cities – “more populated and economically important areas”, at the cost of villagers – mostly farmers or migrant workers.

Of china Hukou The system extends the healthcare, education and other social services of every citizen to their place of origin. Villagers turning to cities for work do not truly settle in urban areas and send money back to their hometowns. Flooded villages and small towns have lower overall costs than flooding in a city, but this means that people with fewer cushions are the hardest to survive.

A villager draws water from a well in Xixinan village in Xinjin province.

A villager draws water from a well in Xixinan village in Xinjin province. Urbanization and industrial pollution have severely affected groundwater in China – 80% of it is unsafe for consumption, and without better methods of rainwater absorption, levels are falling every year.

(For Liu Bowen / Times)

A farmer from Xixinan village stepped into a stream in concrete.

A farmer from Xixinan village stepped into a stream in concrete. Professor Yu Kongjian of Peking University said that China’s approach to water systems focuses on accelerating water through artificial walls.

(For Liu Bowen / Times)

Some environmentalists and engineers say that China should reform its entire flood control approach.

“There is this single-minded concept in all our urban planning and design: to accelerate water and get it out. But we need to do the opposite, ”said Yu Konjian, a professor at Peking University and founder of a landscape architecture firm called Turrenscape.

Yu studied design at Harvard and returned to China due to floods in 1998 before more than 4,000 people died on the banks of the Yangtze River. He urged the Chinese authorities to adopt an eco-centric approach to urbanization over the next 20 years.

Cities in China should be like sponges, not like toilets. Water should be kept slow and intact, not flushing. The way to do this, Yu said, is by restoring Riverbank, Wetlands and Lakes, complete with their living “sponges” of soil and vegetation that can absorb and contain water locally.

“I am not against dams and hydrological structures, but I am opposed to over-reliance on human flood control, these ‘gray’ infrastructures that destroy green and natural systems,” Yu said. “Like a person, if you survive only by relying on a ventilator and injection, then you are fragile. What will happen if the machines break down? Human being will be in danger of death. Cities are similar. “

Methods of building dams and tying rivers with concrete are the methods learned by China from the West. But many ecologists there have also started advocating fewer dams and giving back to nature.

“Man cannot win against nature,” Yu said. “Everything man-made is set to break one day. The ruins of Rome tell us that ”

Everything man-made is set to break one day. The ruins of Rome tell us.

Yu Kongjian

It was once a radical idea, especially in post-1949 China, which has a tragic history of turning nature at its own will. Millions of people died in the Great Famine of China in 1958–61 after Maotsse Tung’s command of people to get unrealistic crop quotas through unscientific planting methods copied from the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union also designed China’s Banqiao Dam in Henan Province, heralded as an “iron dam”, once capable of withstanding a 2,000-year flood. An engineer who questioned the design was fired. In 1975, the dam broke during a typhoon, killing approximately 86,000 to 230,000 people (one estimate versus the government figure of critics) from the effects of floods, starvation and epidemics.

It was the deadliest dam in history. China banned media coverage and only rejected information about it in 2005.

But these days, President Xi Jinping has called on China to create an “ecological civilization”, and Yu has received enough government support to launch “Sponge City” projects in dozens of Chinese cities.

Yu Kongjian stands in a dry pond in the village of Xixinan in Xinjin Province.

Yue Kongjian stands in a dry-dried pond in the village of Xixinan in Anhui Province, which was once used for irrigation. China thus needs to restore the ponds, Yu said, to retain water locally.

(For Liu Bowen / Times)

They are one step ahead against a clock ticking, as climate change exposes China to more severe and frequent droughts and floods. According to China’s Blue Book on Climate Change (2019), the incidence of heavy rainfall has increased by about 3.8% per decade since 1931. This is a total increase of more than 20%, Liu said: “very serious change.”

The UA stated that dams built to withstand floods are formed “once every thousand years” and have to withstand water levels within 100 or 50 or 10 years of their construction. He said that no dam lasts forever. It is not a question of whether but when each ends – and who potentially pays the price.

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