China floods: Party bosses drown Hebei to save Beijing, common people livid

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Common people of China are angry once again against the leaders of the Communist
Party of China and their high-handed attitude. Back in the end of 2021 and the early part of 2022, too, they were angry against the draconian lockdown measures imposed on them by the authorities; mainly to facilitate the smooth passage of President Xi Jinping to a record third term in office.

Even unprecedented slogans like “Xi Jinping step down” had been aired. The “zero Covid”
policy of President Xi had finally ended in a miserable failure. This time they are angry, mainly people living in the villages and small towns surrounding the national capital Beijing, against party bosses of the Hebei province which borders Beijing for having opened the floodgates and spillways and in the process drowning people living in seven low lying zones to save Beijing which was hit by unprecedented rain and flood in the last week of July 2023.

“Officials in Hebei province which borders Beijing had opened floodgates and spillways in seven low lying flood control zones to prevent rivers and reservoirs from overflowing in Beijing and the region’s other metropolis,” the New York Times has reported, quoting Tianjin; a Chinese state media.

“The Communist Party leader of Hebei, Ni Yuefeng, said he ordered the activation of
flood storage and diversion areas to reduce the pressure on Beijing’s flood control and
resolutely build a ‘moat’ for the capital. That move further inundated the adjacent city
of Zhouzhou in Hebei which had already been struggling to contain its own floods after
a levee broke and a local river over-flooded. Its streets and neighbourhood turned into
a brown muddy lake; with water up to 23 feet deep destroying homes and businesses,”
the NYT has said.

“The crisis in Zhouzhou has set off widespread anger. Survivors have complained they
were not given ample warning about the discharge of waters and questioned if they
would be compensated for the losses,” writes the NYT. “In particular, people have
denounced the Hebei leadership that has been more interested in appeasing national
leaders in Beijing than in safeguarding millions of Chinese citizens.”

The comment of Hebei CPC leader that Zhouzhou was a ‘moat’ in apparent indifference to the
sufferings of the people living in this area has become a hashtag that had amassed
60 million viewers before the censor suppressed the online discussion.

“To protect Beijing no one cares if we in Hebei are being flooded,” the NYT has quoted
a resident of Zhouzhou as saying. Many people in Zhouzhou are migrants from other
provinces who have moved up to regions close to the national capital in search of a
livelihood.

The rainfall that Beijing recorded between July 29 and August 1, 2023, 10.2 inches
daily on the average, was the heaviest since records had begun 140 years ago. The
flood was the effect of ‘Storm Doksuri’ sweeping northwards over China. Flooding in
and around Beijing killed at least 20 people, flights were cancelled, services disrupted
and tens of thousands of people had to be evacuated.

According to Xinhua, the official news agency of China, of the 20 killed, 11 were in Beijing and nine in the surrounding province of Hebei. In Beijing 27 people were missing and in Hebei six. In the suburban areas, streets were clogged with water, thick mud and forest debris that had rushed down from the nearby mountains.

Cars were swept away in flooded rivers. Besides Beijing and Hebei, other areas in northern China too were badly affected, including rural areas. About 42,000 people were reported to have been evacuated from areas of Shanxi province, west of Hebei. The grain-producing province of Heilongjiang to the north had to evacuate entire villages; apprehending life-threatening deluges. The storms and floods triggered power cuts in Shangzhi city.

Scientists are unanimous on one point, that an extreme weather event such as the Beijing floods is the fallout of global warming; though no one is sure of the exact cause and effect relation. “As the planet warms, the expectation is that we will see more intense, and more frequent, more severe rainfall events, leading also to more severe flooding.” Director of Hydrology, Water and Cryosphere Stefan Uhlenbrook at the World Meteorological Organization has been quoted as saying. “Record-breaking rainfall induced by tropical cyclones has caused devastation and casualties in the Chinese capital Beijing and the surrounding province of Hebei. Other Asian countries have also been hit.”

In a way, however, the flood in Beijing was just deserts for China which is the worst culprit in terms of global warming. China has long surpassed the United States as the leading emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. In the past 10 years, China has emitted more carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide than any other country in the world. According to Climate Watch, in 2005 it surpassed the U. S. as the top emitter.

Experts had been warning for a long time that catastrophe was waiting to happen in China because of all the environmental pollution it was creating. In a report in 2020, China’s own National Climate Centre predicted that China would suffer over the next few decades from the effects of climate change. This could involve sea-level rise, stronger storms and more intense heat waves. The average temperature in China and the sea levels surrounding the country have risen faster than the global average.

Experts had predicted that China would experience more frequent extreme weather events, such as heavy rainfall. With rising temperature, the glaciers in China would melt at an alarming rate, leading to devastating floods. Bouts of extreme heat and drought would also become common. As such, every year natural disasters kill hundreds of people in China and destroy crops on millions of acres.

The environmental crisis in China, the result of decades of rapid industrialization, not only threatens the environment and livelihood of its 1.4 billion people but also the global fight against climate change,” the Council of Foreign Relations warned in an article on May 19, 2021. “As the world’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in recent years, China suffers from notoriously bad air pollution. Its carbon intensive industries are causing additional environmental challenges. China will face increasingly harsh consequences of climate change in the coming decades, including flooding and drought.”

The ever-growing population and human activities have led to a rapid and continued
increase in emissions, the Journal of Geographical Research has written. “With a 2.5
fold population increase, emission of fossil fuel sulphur has increased by a factor of
nine since the 1950s.”

It is not that the catastrophe was like a bolt from the blue. Earlier instances of extreme weather conditions and floods should have served as a warning to the mandarins of the Communist Party of China to mend their ways. According to reports, in June 2022 record floods in southern China displaced more than half a million people. The water levels in some places in the Guangdong province surpassed historical records. In the cities of Guangzhou and Shaoguan, heavy rainfall turned roads into rivers and people had to be taken to safety in lifeboats. In 2023, it was northern China that was hit.

Unfortunately, however, the mandarins of the Communist Party of China have refused to learn the lesson. The worst source of carbon emission is coal-fired power stations. These make up for nearly two-thirds of the energy consumption of China which is the largest coal producer of the world and accounts for about half the coal consumed globally.

Under international pressure, the Chinese government in 2016 banned the construction of new coal-fired power stations. When the ban expired in 2018, however, the construction of new coal-fired power plants started in full swing in China. In 2020, China built over three times more new coal-based thermal power capacity than the rest of the world combined, says the Global Energy Monitor.

Internationally, China is the largest financier of fossil fuel infrastructure. Through its massive Belt and Road Initiative, China has built or is planning to build hundreds of coal-fired power plants in countries around the world. More than 60 percent of BRI financing for energy projects has gone towards non-renewable resources. Greenhouse gas emissions in more than a dozen BRI countries have soared. It has been estimated that BRI energy projects could drive the global average temperature to increase much above the critical level of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Xi Lao is a freelance journalist based in Taiwan.

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