China: flood woes follow drought

Published: 13 June 2011 14:32 CET

By Francis Markus in Beijing

With torrential rain and flooding now affecting 13 of China’s 33 provinces, following on the heels of a searing drought in some of the same areas, the Red Cross Society of China has mobilized relief teams and aid supplies to the worst-affected districts.

Meteorologists forecast further heavy downpours in many areas over the next few days along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river, threatening to worsen an already serious situation, which has affected millions of people.

“Torrential rain, coming on top of acute drought, creates a very dangerous situation which we’re already seeing in many places, because the soil is now very loose and vulnerable to landslides,” said Qinghui Go, Disaster Management Coordinator for the IFRC’s East Asia region, based in Beijing.

Red Cross response

In response to the flooding in the central province of Hubei, the Red Cross has allocated 700 family kits which include household items for survivors displaced from their homes as well as 800 boxes of water purifier, and a further 90 boxes of clothing.

Provincial authorities say that more than 127,000 people were evacuated and more than 2,695 families have lost their homes.

In recent days, the Red Cross has distributed over 1,000 quilts as well as hundreds of health kits and boxes of disinfectant to support flood survivors in the southern provinces of Guizhou and Hunan.

In Guizhou, provincial Red Cross workers also brought relief supplies, including 10 tonnes of rice, tents and 200 bottles of cooking oil to the worst-affected areas.

Delivering these relief supplies however has been hampered by the weather conditions, which will continue to cause challenges. One member of a Red Cross relief team from the provincial headquarters in Hubei said: “We tried to get supplies into the towns of Guandao and Magang, the worst-affected areas. But the road was still cut off, so we could only reach nearby villages.” The county branch will only be able to distribute relief goods once access to the towns is restored.

Destructive weather patterns

In an indication of the destructive weather patterns being unleashed, at least one serious mudslide hit villages in Hunan on Friday, killing at least 19 people and leaving another eight missing.

Experts investigating the disaster have stated that the mudslide was triggered by a combination of unusually heavy rain coming on top of the recent drought, making it easier for downpours to sweep away sand and rocks.

More work on climate hazards needed

“These kinds of disasters illustrate that greater efforts must be taken to work with communities to identify the hazards they face and the impact of our changing climate on those hazards,” said Martin Faller, the head of the IFRC’s East Asia region.

The IFRC is now increasingly integrating the analysis of climate change into its work, supporting disaster risk reduction activities of the Red Cross Society of China in throughout the country. These efforts however, are still in their early stages and a more integrated approach with greater collaboration with other organizations will be needed if all vulnerable communities are to be made more resilient.