The Heat Is Online

China Storms Disrupt 200 Million People in 2007

China climate change storms 'have affected 200 million'


The Times of London, July 31, 2007

Violent storms and floods that experts say are a consequence of global warming have hit 200 million people in China.

Up to five million residents have been evacuated from their homes, while nearly 700 have lost their lives  a toll that threatened to climb yesterday as 69 miners remained trapped in a flooded shaft. Worse may be yet to come. Describing the floods as the most severe the country had suffered in a decade, Chinese officials cautioned that more deadly weather would wreak havoc before the end of the summer.

The floods, an annual threat for China, have affected nearly 20 per cent of the countrys 1.3 billion population. The economic losses are estimated officially to be 52.5 billion yuan (£3.5 billion).

Dangerously high water levels along the main rivers have led to mass evacuations, while hundreds of thousands of homes and millions of hectares of crops have been destroyed. More flash floods, downpours and landslides are expected over the next few days, the Red Cross said, starting an emergency appeal for aid. High temperatures have made life even more uncomfortable for those displaced.

Gu Qinghui, the Red Crosss regional disaster management delegate for East Asia, said: Theres an urgent need for rice, clean drinking water, shelter, clothing, medical services and disinfectant.

Chinas farming communities, which comprise the majority of the population, have suffered the worst of the damage and casualties, highlighting the vulnerability of the rural population to natural disasters. The Red Cross cautioned that it could take months or years for the poorest communities to rebuild and recover.

Ewa Eriksson, the acting regional head in Beijing, said: When you look at the economic growth of the country, its easy to forget that outside of the major cities, the rural areas are home to many families living in utter poverty.

Coalminers in central Henan province have also fallen victim to the storms. Officials said that 69 miners have been trapped at the Zhijian mine since rainwater surged through an old shaft early on Sunday. The men were still alive yesterday, taking refuge in a safe part of the mine. They were able to make phone calls, and rescuers have pumped out water and drilled holes to provide oxygen.

However, continued heavy rains were hampering rescue efforts by triggering landslides on both sides of the mountain road leading to the mine.

Experts said that global warming, driven by growing greenhouse gas emissions from factories, farms and vehicles, was fuelling more intense weather in China this year.

Dong Wenjie, director-general of the Beijing Climate Centre, said in an interview on the centres website: The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are increasing  records for worst-in-a-century rainstorms, droughts and heatwaves are being broken more often. This in fact is closely associated with global warming.

Global warming is usually linked with drought, but warmer, moister air is likely to bring more concentrated storms to many parts, scientists say.

Forecasters said torrential rain was likely to hit parts of the southwestern provinces of Guizhou, Yunnan and Sichuan as well as Hubei in coming days. Storms soaked the dry north and northwest yesterday.

But other areas were suffering meteorological misery of different kinds. More than one million people faced shortages of drinking water in several southern provinces as a heatwave compounded weeks of drought.

Land of deadly floods

 An estimated seven million perished in the worlds deadliest flooding when the Yellow River burst its banks in 1332

 About a million people died in the 20th centurys worst flood when the Yellow and Yangtze rivers mingled after bursting their banks in 1931

 The Three Gorges Dam, on the Yangtze River, will help to stop massive floods. The project is due for completion in 2009, though the lakes formed will take decades to fill

 This year dykes throughout the south and west are under heavy pressure and could exacerbate the situation hugely if breached

Sources: International Red Cross; Bournemouth School Meteorological Office; International Rivers Network