Why China’s catastrophic floods will barely dent its economy
By Grady McGregor
Beijing's flood control strategy is paying off for some regions—but causing calamity in others.
The waters of China's mighty Yangtze River have inched upward in recent weeks, cresting banks, flooding adjacent land, and displacing millions of people from their homes.
Spring and summer rains in China pose annual flooding risk, costing the country an average of $10 billion per year in direct damages. The research firm China Water Risk estimates that China incurs more losses per year due to floods than any other country.
Climate change has upped China's flooding risks in recent years, says Jennifer Turner, director of the Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum. She says heavy rains in China have increased by about 4% in each of the past five decades amid a changing climate.
“China’s flood fighting strategy is to discharge flood [waters] to farmland,” as a means to secure cities and industrial areas, says Li.
China has over 98,000 dams in total, more than any other country on earth. In response to 1998 flooding, the central government created seven river basin committees to provide funding for infrastructure projects and plan flood control measures along major waterways. The initiative doubled-down on China's reliance on its vast network of dams along the Yangtze and its tributaries, the most direct method Beijing uses to control floods and insulate cities.
“Not even the Three Gorges Dam has been built strongly enough that we can be certain it will withstand the flooding China has seen in recent weeks,” said Shapiro. “If the dam were to break it would be a disaster of cataclysmic proportions,” she said, one that China's economy could not escape.
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