Massive flooding overtakes Henan . . .
At least 33 people have died, and eight people remain missing in the Chinese province of Henan after record-breaking precipitation in which a year’s worth of rain – 640mm – fell from July 18 through July 20. The deluge struck Zhengzhou, the province’s capital city, particularly hard, inundating its subway system, damaging roads, forcing the suspension of flights, and destroying over 500,000 acres of cropland in surrounding areas. Around 200,000 people were displaced and more than three million people were affected by the flood waters. The reconstruction of Henan, one of China’s most populous provinces, will be challenging.
Lack of preparedness . . .
The public has voiced concerns over the lack of emergency preparedness and coordination of emergency actions. While weather forecasters warned of dangerous flooding, many question why authorities failed to enforce early evacuations or school closures. In particular, public scrutiny has emerged over the decision to keep the subway operating, where at least 12 people died during the flood. Horrific videos have circulated showing people struggling to raise their heads above rising waters in the subway. The disaster places an increased imperative on authorities to better coordinate warning systems and emergency responses for future crises.
Adapting to climate change . . .
Rather than identifying climate change as a major contributing factor for the disaster, authorities have claimed that the rainstorm is a “one-in-1,000-year weather event.” Although floods are common in the rainy season in Henan and other parts of China, environmentalists fear the country’s rapid urbanization and its depletion of natural water bodies, which can absorb rainfall, could worsen conditions contributing to flash floods. From 2017 to 2030, Zhengzhou was scheduled to become a ‘sponge city,’ a concept established to tackle urban surface-water flooding and related water management issues. As part of that commitment, the Zhengzhou government planned to spend around C$10 billion in implementing waterway and drainage infrastructure to absorb heavy rainfall.