Hell from the Yangtze China’s 1998 summer floods killed thousands of people, affected billions of people across the globe, left millions homeless, destroyed or damaged millions of homes, affected millions acres of land, and killed billions of dollars in their economic status.
One unfortunate factor that played a huge role in the strengthening of the summer floods that China faced and suffered was human neglect (“Bad Planning”). However, one of the many significant factors that are highly crucial in flood control is the world’s largest power station (“Three Gorges”) also known as the Three Gorges Dam. Without the Three Gorges Dam capability of controlling the river floods, each summer poses a great threat to those who dwell near the Yangtze and its tributaries.
But despite the complications concerning with the yearly river floods, the Yangtze played a significant role in establishing many trade routes for many centuries (Wakeman 492). However, since the early dawn of civilization, the Yangtze River proved to contain some of the deadly summer floods that China will ever experience. The Yangtze is naturally located in the Eastern Lowlands, which also contains most of China’s best farmland.
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In 1998, a collection of floods of the Yangtze River caused by deforestation, overpopulation, location, and failure to learn past mistakes all resulted in a high number of deaths, millions of homeless people, life-threatening water borne diseases, and the suffrage in the industrial and agricultural status; however, the aid and support of China’s government, the United Nations, China’s army and military, and the unification within the people of China eventually brought a better realization on how the repetition of its summer floods could have been avoided in the first place.
In other words, the chaos and suffrage that was endured by the many that were affected by China’s repetition of its collection of summer floods made the government, United Nations and supporting countries, army and the military, and the people much stronger than before, helping China to correct its past mistakes in order to prevent further trouble socially and economically. One crucial fact that one must observed was that the numerous human errors that occurred before the year 1998 and the failure to correct them took part in the summer flood disaster.
Deforestation was the first recognizable human error, especially and specifically in the Eastern Lowlands where the valley of the Yangtze River was geologically located (Wakeman 492). Deforestation brought many environmental problems which aided the summer floods of the Yangtze to increase its size and the risk of damage (Lang). This happened due to soil erosion (Lang) and the removal of top soil (Gittings) which resulted from the lack of trees (Lang). Another environmental problem was the lack of firm top soil due to the lack of trees which can create water run-off, especially near a river (Gittings).
The bottom line was that deforestation caused the rich top soil to disappear or disperse creating water run-off which in return encouraged floods to increase its damage capabilities (Lang). The growing population of China also contributes to the deforestation of China because people needed land to live on. The second major human error was overpopulation. Overpopulation in cities or areas prone to deadly natural disasters is more likely to result in higher number of deaths and causalities (Gittings). More people mean a higher demand in food, land, and crops (Gittings) which helped caused deforestation in many areas along the Yangtze.
The third major human error was the location in which they built their vast cities and homes. Where there is a river, there is the potential risk or threat of a river flood. Throughout the summer flood disaster, tens of thousands of people were force to either flee or evacuate their homes as entire villages were wiped out and crops sustained heavy damage (Ansfield). Flooding was always a negative factor to many cities, towns, and industries which were built relatively close to the Yangtze River in the Eastern Lowlands throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries (Wakeman 492).
Finally, the fourth major human error was failure to improve after many flood disasters before the year 1998. The government did not have enough resources to initiate a complete plan to avoid summer flooding’s and disasters that follows it (Gittings). The government lacked on the money, funds, labor, and support according to this quote during the 1998 summer floods, where many Chinese flood victims answered a question to who to blame saying, “There was nothing to be done. China was too poor. China has too many people” (Gittings).
Thus, many victims advocated for improvement yet failed because political power and complete social unification with the rest of the country was out of their league (Gittings). The bottom line was that human errors not only set up the devastating Yangtze summer flood disaster, but also encouraged it to happen. There were severe flood consequences following China’s summer disaster. First, the disaster negatively impacted socially, where panic and chaos ensured in many of the flooded streets (Watson).
But chaos wasn’t the only thing on flooded streets. Damages took place in many commercial businesses, which were either damaged or destroyed by the floods putting thousands out of work (“YouTube”). According to a video recording the disaster, the entire streets and major roadways were completely flooded, only leaving sewage and unsanitary debris behind (“YouTube”). The second consequence was unsanitary drinking water. Even flooding as a natural disaster can tamper with the public drinking water making it harder to have access to safe water (Watson).
People who drink unsafe water can risk getting diseases and illnesses, such as diarrheal (Watson). This only put more negative pressure on the victims who were striving to survive the disaster. The third consequence was structural damage complications. Collapsed or damaged structures can create havoc and add more problems to the picture as shown in a video where it showed flood waters surrounding underneath a damaged bridge, full of trapped survivors who were waiting to be rescued (“YouTube”).
Another example of structural damage was the breakthrough of many dikes and levees along the Yangtze River holding back heavy flood waters to protect nearby cities and industrial centers (Hutzler). Many dikes were placed in areas prone to flooding especially near the industrial centers and oil fields in order to protect them and keep them from affecting their economic status (Kurtenbach). The condition and strength of the many dikes literally was a death and life situation for not only the government, but for the population as well.
Lastly, the fourth consequence was the rise in health issues. An example was the extreme scarcity of safe drinking water. Drinking unsafe water can increase the risk of getting diarrheal disease which exactly happened in many cities affected by the Yangtze floods (Watson). Also, many hospitals and clinics were damaged, destroyed, or completely submerged under water which caused a shortage in medicine and medical equipment for the many flood victims (Hutzler).
As the flood waters affected millions, negative health factors such as colds, stomach illnesses, dysentery, hepatitis, and diseases carried by waterborne parasites all threatened the flood victims and those nearby to which health Minister Zhang Wenkang himself tried to warn that these factors were on the rise (Hutzler). The many flood consequences radically brought devastating damages to China and immediately alerted the people and the government that changes and solutions in its society was needed to prevent further flood catastrophes.
Agricultural, economic, and industrial damages were dealt with throughout the summer disaster. Fact: “Flooding across vast areas of China that began in June of 1998 had affected more than 140 million people, destroyed 2. 9 million houses and ruined nine million hectares of crops by July 15” (“China Moves”). In agriculture, about 21 million hectares of land were underwater which disrupted successful farming and the growth of crops (Harding). The grain production of 1998 was difficult to accomplish for the flooding’s cut back some 11 million tons of summer grain harvest (Harding).
Also, cotton wheat and rice got hit the worst (Harding). Economically, losses were estimated around 85. 6 billion Yuan. Agriculture and the economy were extremely associated with each other. For example, the cotton industry was highly affected by the Yangtze summer floods (Harding). Even though it still had enough cotton to produce for the use of China, flooding still damaged some cotton fields thus forcing a decrease in its cotton exports (Harding). In other words, the reduction of cotton exports and imports greatly damaged its economic shipping.
Thus, agricultural had a strong mutual bond with the economy, a bond where one can become affected and overwhelmingly impact the other. But that wasn’t the only complication, for billions of money was spent by the government (“1998”) to provide food, water, and shelter to the flood victims as well as spending money to clean up and rebuild the affected cities and lands (Ansfield). One example that can be examined was a quote from the mayor of Qiqihar, “We need about three years to make up for the heavy losses caused by the floods” (Gittings).
When a natural disaster hits so suddenly, the damages can be so severe and restoration of anything takes time and patience. Finally, the floods damaged the industry of China. A total of 335 oilfields were submerged underwater or affected by the floods at Daqing (Kurtenbach). But according to Xinhua, China’s oil production still continued, even though 282 oil wells were shut down and 1443 oil wells were overwhelmed with flood waters (Hutzler).
Despite the amount of damages sustained during the disaster, China eventually received much needed help and support by its government, the United Nations, army and military, and the people. The 1998 summer disaster created problems that changed China economically, socially, and politically. But most problems eventually were solved, mostly by the reactions and responses of China and other helpful nations. There were four recognizable reactionaries and responses. The first was government involvement.
During the summer flood disasters, the government helped in supplying the thousands with medical supplies, food, water, and shelter (Kurtenbach). Even President Jiang Zemin urged relief workers to ensure social order and guard against the spread of diseases (Kurtenbach). The government also built the world’s largest powerhouse dam, the Three Gorges Dam (“Three Gorges”), in order to control flooding and provide an eco-friendly power source for its cities and people (“China Moves”).
Deforestation was a major cause and problem of the 1998 summer floods, thus the government devised a plan in which they will replant thousands of trees to regain rich top soil especially near the Yangtze and its rivers (Lang). In order to complete this major task, the government received help from the Sloping Land Conversion Program or SLCP which will devise a plan to turn some 37 million acres of land back into forests or grasslands (Hance). The government orders some of the dikes to be destroyed to flood plains and farms in order to save the many industrial cities and centers from being flooded (“Background”).
Most importantly, the government banned all logging activities in the headwaters of the Yangtze and in the Sichuan province, stopping the lumber jacks from cutting down trees to planting new trees (Gittings). The second reaction and response was the help from the United Nations. The World Food Programme or W. F. P. officially got involved and helped China and its people by sending and distributing food and water to the flood victims (“Chinese Agency”). The W. E. P. Deputy Executive Director Namanga Nyongi stated, “The aim of W. F.
P. ’s emergency operation is to provide food and to help these people rebuild their homes and the local infrastructure which were destroyed by the floods” (“Chinese Agency”). This quote simply explains on how Nyongi spoke a reassurance statement in which help was on the way and that the Chinese flood victims will not be abandoned. The United States also helped by sending in a shipment of humanitarian relief equipment (Harding) and dispatched some cargo planes carrying essential supplies vital to the flood victims (“Background”).
The third reaction and responses was from China’s army and military. Countless Chinese troops are sent in to complete search and rescue missions, reinforce weak dikes, clean up the wreckage of the many cities, and secure public safety and provide protection (“YouTube”). More than two million people including most military personal all helped reinforce the weak and outdated dikes holding some or most of the flood waters back (Harding). Lastly, the unification of the people of China was a significant reaction and response to the summer floods.
It took millions of helpful people of all social classes and society to work as a team to reinforce the poor dikes and drain flooded roads as well as replanting drowned crops (Ansfield). Teamwork in rescue missions was crucial especially when dealing with a crisis that involved victims in a dangerous situation (“YouTube”). Another example of unity and teamwork was the millions of hands willingly sacrificing their time and efforts in the moving of earth and sand to avoid greater disasters (Gittings).
The fact that President Jiang Zemin encouraged the country and nation to team up with one another in the struggle of the 1998 summer floods also helped in unifying the people. The 1998 summer flood disaster in China devastated both the government and the people caused by major human errors such as deforestation, overpopulation, location, and past failures only to be later resolved by its reactions and responses to improve its status with the Yangtze and avoid future, major complications. Human errors were most to blame since the government and the people did not learn from their past disaster mistakes and continued to lose countless lives.
Deforestation, overpopulation, location, and all of the failures could have been recognized and solved by the people of China thus preventing such high deaths and leaving millions homeless or affected. But despite the complications, there were some changes that were made to help them correct their past mistakes, and the government, people, and the United Nations all did their best to help China succeed. The restoration of thousands of trees and the facility of the Three Gorges Dam was to both play a crucial role in controlling the river floods or to prevent soil erosion, as well as protecting those living along the Yangtze.
Despite the complications and solutions, natural disasters can change and shape countries, people, governments, and society. But it is the reactions and responses to the disasters that determines whether the outcome is a success or a failure based on learning from the mistakes and correcting them.
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- "China Moves 132,000 as Floods Approach Three Gorges Region: Flood Season Has Killed 1,000, and Officials Tell Residents to Brace for Massive Crest of Water Expected on the Yangtze. The Vancouver Sun [Vancouver] 20 July 1998, Final ed. , News sec. : A5. ProQuest Newsstand. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. ;http://search. proquest. com/docview/242848508? accountid=3785;.
- "Chinese Agency Reports UN Food-aid Programme Launched in Flood Aftermath. " BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific - Political [London] 19 Sept. 1998: 1. ProQuest Newsstand. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. ;http://search. proquest. com/docview/450127178? accountid=3785;. Gittings, John. "Environment: High and Dry The Flooding of the Yangtze River Has Devastated the Lives of Millions. Now China Is Claiming It Can
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