China floods affect 54.8 million people, inflict US$20 billion in losses

Chinese reports of deaths, damaged homes suspiciously low given scale of disaster

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Flooding in Guzhen Town of Lu'an City in eastern China's Anhui Province.

Flooding in Guzhen Town of Lu'an City in eastern China's Anhui Province. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The massive floods which have ravaged China over the past two months have inflicted a heavy toll on the communist country in terms of property damage and direct economic losses, with the vaunted Three Gorges Dam seemingly inadequate and the death toll remaining suspiciously low.

After two months of torrential rains and tremendous flooding across the Yangtze River, Yellow River, and Huai River, China's state-run mouthpiece Xinhua on Wednesday (July 29) cited the Ministry of Emergency Management as saying that the "rain-triggered floods" have affected 54.8 million people in 27 provincial-level regions as of Tuesday (July 28). Despite the vast scale of the disaster unfolding across China, the government is reporting a miraculously low 158 dead or missing.

Xinhua says that 3.76 million people have been evacuated from flood-ravaged areas. Amid the onslaught, 41,000 homes have collapsed and 368,000 have been damaged.

A total of 5.283 hectares of farmland has been damaged, and direct economic losses have climbed to 144.43 billion Chinese yuan (about US$20.66 billion). Compared with the average over the same period in the past five years, the number of people affected by floods this year has increased by 23.4 percent, the number of evacuations by 36.7 percent, and direct economic losses by 13.8 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of dead and missing persons reported has decreased by 53.9 percent, and the number of collapsed houses has reportedly dropped by 68.4 percent. Given that this year's floods have not only surpassed anything seen in the past five years but also since 1998 and beyond, it is odd that the number of deaths and collapsed homes would actually decrease, possibly indicating undercounting by officials.

Although it is predicted that the heavy rainfall in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River will ease on Wednesday, the official Weibo page of China's Ministry of Emergency Management (MEM) stated that the government has decided to maintain the secondary flood control response on the Yangtze and Huaihe rivers as well as required key areas to the north so as to strengthen flood prevention.

On Sunday (July 26), Xinhua announced that the "No. 3 Flood" of the year had been declared for the embattled Three Gorges Dam that day. By 2 p.m., the dam's reservoir had recorded an inflow of 50,000 cubic meters per second, and it is expected to peak at 60,000 cubic meters per second by Tuesday, according to China's Ministry of Water Resources.

By 8 a.m. on Tuesday, the flood had passed through the Three Gorges Reservoir area and was advancing to the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze, whose main channel maintained a high water level.

Although the water level of the main channel of the middle and upper reaches of the Huai River is slowly decreasing, it has exceeded the warning level for an extended period of time. As of Wednesday, the water level of the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, below the Hubei Province city of Shishou and the Poyang and Dongting Lakes, continues to exceed the warning level.

It is expected that heavy rains and flooding may occur in the Yellow River basin at any time after the rain belt moves north on Wednesday. According to The Beijing News, after the rain belt heads north, heavy rainfall will occur in the Huanghuai region, and North and Northeast China, and heavy floods may occur in the Hai River, Yellow River, and Song-Liao River Basin.