China - worst flooding in decades leaves millions in need

By Patrick Fuller, IFRC, Kuala Lumpur

The arrival of Typhoon Chanthu on Thursday brought even more heavy wind and rain to the southern provinces of China that have already endured successive waves of flooding since May. On making landfall in Guangdong and Hainan, the typhoon disrupted power, transport and telecommunications, but loss of life was minimal due to effective early warnings that advised people to remain indoors.

Although the typhoon has reduced in strength to a tropical storm, the rains arriving in its wake have brought further misery to millions of people. So far this year, the floods have claimed 710 lives while 347 people remain missing. Over 110 million people have been affected and the Chinese authorities estimate that 7 million hectares of farmland have been flooded and 645,000 houses destroyed. The water level of more than 230 rivers have passed the danger mark and some areas along the Yangtze River are experiencing the worst flooding in 30 years.

The IFRC recently accompanied the Red Cross Society of China on a flood assessment mission to Hubei province. The team visited communities in two of the worst hit prefectures, Xianning and Jingzhou.

"The water was still a metre high and people have to cross their fields by boat to retrieve belongings from their homes. Many were taken by surprise by the intensity and speed of the flooding," says Qinghui Gu, the IFRC's regional disaster management coordinator.

Some in Hubei are comparing the current situation to 1998 when 40,000 people died in the worst flooding in China's recent history. Hubei is prone to seasonal flooding, but this year more than 10 million people have been affected and 52,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes. Most of the displaced population is now either staying with their relatives or in tents provided by the Red Cross or the government, who have also sent out health teams to provide basic medical care to the population.

"In Hubei, everyone told us that food is the most pressing need," says Qinghui Gu. "Over the coming months, the Red Cross aims to support 12,000 of the worst affected families in this area with food as well as personal items lost in the floods such as quilts. The priority is to get them back on their feet as soon as possible."

The Red Cross Society of China has been active in relief efforts across most of China's flood-affected provinces, distributing emergency supplies including tents, quilts, rice and drinking water.