After several weeks of denial, the Chinese government may have finally acknowledged that a Biblical 40-day flood is a serious problem. But it may already be too late as the overburdened Three Gorges Dam endangers 400 million people.
Over the past weeks, the average precipitation in the Yangtze River basin reached a record high since 1961. China’s ministry of water resources said flood alerts had been raised for 433 rivers in the country since early June, including 33 where water levels have broken historical records.
Flood control authorities said on Monday that over 140 people are already missing or dead, and nearly 38 million people have been evacuated. Floodwaters destroyed 8.72 million acres of farmland, 28,000 homes, and in many cases submerged entire towns.
Authorities raised the flood-control response to Level 1 on Sunday, the highest of a four-level emergency response, after the Yangtze River and Poyang Lake — the country’s longest river and biggest lake — rose above warning levels.
Hardest hit by the flooding was Hubei province which, not so long ago, accounted for more than 80% of China’s coronavirus cases. A combination of the pandemic and flooding caused the GDP to drop by 6.8% in the first quarter, the first drop the Chinese economy has experienced since 1976. Estimates of the economic losses from flood damage reached $3.6 billion by the end of June.
It is interesting to note that one of the cities hardest hit by the flood is Wuhan, ground zero for the pandemic that has since spread around the world. Wuhan is home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Despite assurances from the government residents fear that the Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydropower project in the world, is in danger of collapse. 400 million people are at risk if the dam fails.
While assuring the people that the dam was far from reaching its capacity, the Chinese government began opening the floodgates on June 24, flooding towns downstream.
German-Chinese hydrologist Wang Weiluo told Radio France Internationale last month that the dam could collapse at any moment. Wang pointed out that the dam’s design, construction, and quality inspection were all carried out by the same group of people and that the project was finished too quickly using substandard concrete.
Seasonal rain began falling in late May, considered early for the region. Average rainfall has been at its highest since records began in 1961.
More heavy rains are forecast for the near future. On Tuesday, the China Meteorological Administration issued a blue alert for heavy rain from Tuesday to Saturday in multiple provinces in the country.
Authorities are comparing the current situation to the floods in 1998 which resulted in 3,704 dead, 15 million homeless, and $24 billion in economic loss.