During the end of July and the beginning of August, northern China faced an exceptional onslaught of heavy rain. To put it in perspective, imagine more than 100 millimeters of rainfall covering an area equivalent to the combined landmass of Greece and the Netherlands. That’s exactly what happened, as reported by the National Meteorological Centre. The hardest-hit area was Lincheng County in Hebei, where an astonishing 1,003 millimeters of rain fell, well beyond its typical annual rainfall of 500 millimeters. Meanwhile, Beijing recorded its heaviest rainfall in over a century, going back to the dawn of instrumental weather records in 1883.
These relentless downpours wreaked havoc on the region. Over five million people in Hebei and Beijing were affected, resulting in a tragic loss of 62 lives, with 34 people still unaccounted for. The infrastructure in Hebei alone suffered severe damage, with economic losses soaring to nearly 100 billion yuan, which is roughly equivalent to a staggering US$13.7 billion.
Interestingly, just two years ago, Henan province grappled with rainstorms that impacted a staggering 15 million people and resulted in 398 fatalities and missing persons. Fortunately, this time around, improved forecasting and emergency response systems helped reduce casualties. However, the inundated streets and urban flooding caused by extreme precipitation serve as a stark reminder of the new challenges posed by climate change.
These events also emphasize the pressing need for more resilient urban infrastructure planning and better coordination among regions. According to Liu Daizong, the East Asia director for the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), China must take clearer steps toward climate adaptation, be open to adopting valuable lessons from other countries, and harness the potential of market forces and civil society to address these critical issues head-on.
Rising Ocean Temperatures and Intense Typhoons
At a press conference on August 3rd, Zhang Hengde from the China Meteorological Administration explained the unusual rainfall in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region. It was caused by three main factors: abundant moisture in the air, a stationary high-pressure system, and mountain ranges forcing air upwards. On July 29th, a weakening Typhoon Doksuri brought moist air north, while Typhoon Khanun added more moisture. High-pressure systems halted these airflows and directed them over northern China, where mountains caused the moisture to condense into raindrops.
This extreme rainfall may become more frequent due to climate change, which is also linked to warming oceans. As of early August, the world’s oceans reached a record average temperature of 20.96 degrees Celsius. This is primarily due to climate change, as oceans absorb over 90 percent of the additional heat caused by greenhouse gases. The frequency of flooding has increased over the past decade, and super typhoons are now more frequent. China used to experience major cyclones every two to three years a decade ago, but since 2022, there have already been 20 destructive cyclones.
Strengthening Disaster Response for a Changing Climate
As the impacts of climate change become more apparent, we must adapt to handle the increasing instability in our climate systems. China is one of the countries most affected by natural disasters. A report in 2020 revealed that China experienced 577 such disasters between 2000 and 2019, more than any other country.
In 2022, 112 million people in China were affected by disasters, resulting in 554 deaths, 47,000 destroyed buildings, and a direct economic loss of 238.65 billion yuan ($33 billion), primarily due to flooding and drought. However, it’s crucial to note that China has made significant progress in reducing disaster-related losses over the past decade. Comparing data from 2000-2012 to 2013-2021, we’ve seen an 87.2 percent decrease in deaths and missing persons, an 87.4 percent reduction in destroyed buildings, and a 61.7 percent decrease in economic losses as a percentage of GDP. Even in 2022, when many were affected, these figures dropped by 30.8 percent, 63.3 percent, and 25.3 percent, respectively, compared to the previous five years.
This reduction in casualties can be attributed to improved disaster response systems, particularly the rapid expansion of rescue capabilities. Civil society groups began using inflatable rescue boats around 2016, which later became vital for large-scale water rescues during floods. Official rescue services joined in, leading to significant advancements in rescue capabilities over the past decade. Today, China boasts around 4,000 professional-level water rescue teams, more than any other country.
China’s experience with frequent natural disasters has inadvertently strengthened its capacity to adapt to climate change, as disaster relief and resilience are integral components of climate adaptation strategies.
In 2015, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction outlined four key areas of action that align with climate adaptation efforts: understanding disaster risk, enhancing governance to manage risk, investing in disaster reduction for resilience, and improving disaster preparedness for effective response and recovery.
Water Management Technology: a Broader Strategy for Climate Adaptation and Disaster Resilience
As our climate patterns grow increasingly erratic, the role of water management in natural disasters becomes pivotal. Advanced water management technologies can enhance our capacity to predict, respond to, and mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events. Efficient water management strategies can help reduce the vulnerabilities of communities in the face of flooding, droughts, and other water-related disasters.
Furthermore, these technologies can help regulate water flow, prevent infrastructure damage, and facilitate rapid water removal in flood-prone areas. They can contribute to sustainable water resource management, which is essential in a changing climate.
This holistic strategy not only strengthens our ability to manage disasters but also fosters greater resilience in the face of climate challenges, ultimately safeguarding communities and ecosystems for a more sustainable future.
Advancing Water Resilience: Join Us at Watertech China and Flowtech China in June 2024
Two noteworthy expos, Watertech China and Flowtech China, are set to take place in June 2024 at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai. These events play a pivotal role in advancing the field of water technology, management, and control.
Through these expos, stakeholders gain access to the latest advancements, fostering more effective disaster preparedness and response efforts. As a result, they play a crucial role in mitigating floods and water disasters by equipping communities and authorities with the tools and knowledge needed to protect lives and property in the face of water-related challenges.
Join us at Watertech China and Flowtech China in June 2024 at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai, and be part of the solution in mitigating floods and water disasters. Don’t miss this opportunity to connect with experts and innovators shaping the future of water resilience.
All the references in this article are provided by China Dialogue.