Final Report on 1998 Floods in the People's Republic of China


by the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (UNDAC)/
United Nations Inter-Agency Mission

7 - 25 September 1998

Members of the UNDAC/UN Inter-Agency Mission:

Fabrizio Gentiloni, UNDAC Team Leader, OCHA Geneva
Eva Johansson, UNDAC
Terje Skavdal, UNDAC
Gilbert Greenall, UNDAC
Edward Hoekstra, WHO China
Xie Hong Yi, WFP China,
Liu Xuerong, WFP, China
Ma Huiyan, UNDP, China
Guo Rui Xiang, UNDP China
Kevin Kamp, FAO China







The UNDAC Team wishes to thank warmly the United Nations Resident Coordinator and her staff for their support. Our gratitude also goes to all agency participants in the mission for their active and effective cooperation.


I. The 1998 flood disaster in China

1. In the summer of 1998, China suffered the worst floods in over 44 years. The central and southern parts of the country along the banks of the Yangtze river and its tributaries were battered by more than 60 days of heavy flooding. In July - August, extensive flooding also occurred in the north-east, along the Songhuajiang, Nenjiang and other rivers.

2. According to governmental estimates, 223 million people - one fifth of China's population were affected, 3,004 people died and 15 million were made homeless. 15 million farmers lost their crops. The floods caused severe damage to critical facilities such as health clinics, schools, water supply, and other infrastructure such as roads, bridges and irrigation systems as well as industrial facilities. At the end of August, direct economic damage was estimated at over US$ 20 billion.

3. The cause of the disaster is excessive rainfall, which, according to Chinese meteorologists was ascribed to the worldwide El Niño phenomenon followed by La Niña; the melting of lasting and deep snow accumulated in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau in the south-west of China; a weak Asian monsoon; unusual sub-tropical high pressure systems on the West Pacific Ocean; and a decrease in the number of typhoons. According to Chinese government officials, the disaster was also due, in part, to rampant deforestation, causing serious soil erosion, and, in turn, silting. The fertile land surrounding the Yangtze river is densely populated and areas that previously were flood banks are now increasingly inhabited.

II. The UNDAC/United Nations Inter-Agency mission

4. On the basis of data provided by the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Beijing, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva issued, from early June to September 19, nine situation reports to inform the international community and to mobilize international assistance. An OCHA emergency grant of US$ 50,000 and funds totalling US$ 400,000 channelled by donors through OCHA were used to purchase tents.

5. Donations reported to OCHA by Government donors and through the Red Cross amounted to US $ 15 million as of September 29, 1998, for China as a whole.

6. In response to a request from the Government of the People's Republic of China on August 27, 1998, a four-person United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team was dispatched on September 7, by OCHA in Geneva, to assist in the assessment of the situation and the immediate needs of the flood victims. On the day of arrival, the UNDAC mission was briefed in Beijing by the United Nations Resident Coordinator, the United Nations Disaster Management Team (UNDMT) and the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs.

7. With the participation of WHO, WFP, FAO and UNDP, two joint UNDAC/ United Nations inter-agency field assessment missions were carried out from September 8 to 16 to three of the worst affected provinces in the Yangtze river basin in the south of China: Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi; and two of the worst affected provinces in the north of China, Heilongjiang and Jilin. Representatives from the Ministry of Civil Affairs and Governmental representatives from provincial and county level accompanied the two UN missions.

8. Following a request on 31 August from the Government of China to OCHA in New York through the Chinese Permanent Mission to the United Nations, the UNDAC team assisted the UNDMT in Beijing in preparing a United Nations inter-agency appeal to mobilize international emergency and immediate rehabilitation assistance to the most affected areas in China. The appeal was launched by the UNDMT in Beijing on 23 September 1998, on the basis of the preliminary findings in this report.

9. It should be noted that, prior to the UNDAC/United Nations inter-agency mission, two in-country assessment missions had been carried out as follows:

  • a WFP mission to the provinces of Anhui, Hubei, Jangxi and Hunan at the end of August/beginning of September;
  • a UNICEF mission to Hunan province in the first week of September.

These missions served as a basis for the identification of sectoral requirements in the United Nations inter-agency appeal.

10. This mission report has been produced by the UNDAC team with substantial input from representatives of the UN agencies participating in the field missions. Due to the differences in disaster context, disaster phase, as well as the complexity of the two assessments, the mission report contains two separate field reports.

III. General conclusions

11. Given the magnitude of the disaster, which is unprecedented over the last decades, the rescue and relief operations mounted by the Chinese Government at all levels have been impressive. The Government reportedly provided more than US$ 229 million. Some one million People's Liberation Army personnel and others (farmers, villagers and the police) were deployed to fight flood waters. Their massive mobilization reduced sufferings and the loss of human lives. The UN mission witnessed the efficient way in which the Government had provided emergency relief.

12. It was noted that China's advanced prevention policy, based on timely predictions/forecasting and early warning, greatly contributed to the outcome of the struggle against the floods. Early warning systems were still in place in locations visited by the mission.

13. The mission witnessed the exemplary solidarity of the Chinese people, both in-country and abroad, and at all levels. Fund-raising campaigns were organized, and relief supplies resulting from them were distributed to the flood victims. As reported by official media, donations from within China and overseas had reached US$ 192 million by the end of August. The Chinese Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and non-governmental organizations also provided substantial relief assistance.

14. Following the immediate relief phase, conditions of the flood victims remain precarious. In the south, along the Yangtze river basin, 2.9 million people, who sought refuge on dykes up to two months ago, survive in overcrowded, insufficient shelters under deteriorating sanitary and health conditions. These people are now homeless and have lost all their sources of income. The water surrounding them on all sides is not expected to recede for another two-three months. As autumn and winter approach, the flood victims on the dykes are totally exposed to the wind, rain and the cold weather. The risk of outbreak of diseases in these narrow and unprotected stretches of land is high. In the north, the severe winter weather (down to -30C) is only six weeks away and the fight against the flood water has been replaced by a struggle to protect over one million homeless against the cold.

15. The emergency is now in a critical phase, with prolonged emergency conditions that increase the vulnerability of the flood victims, while they strive to initiate rehabilitation efforts. The Chinese Government has experience in dealing with floods, but not on this scale and for such an extended period. It is vital that international assistance be provided now, to meet the immediate relief needs and to prevent a major catastrophe in the months to come.

16. The UNDAC/United Nations inter-agency mission identified the following priority needs for immediate international assistance, as described in this report;

  • tents
  • shelter materials
  • water purification
  • medicines, in particular antibiotics and oral re-hydration salts
  • sanitation supplies
  • vehicles for medical transport
  • food
  • agricultural inputs
  • coal for heating and cooking
  • initial rehabilitation of health centres and schools

17. The above international assistance should be provided for at least four months. Relief items are available in China.

18. The UNDAC/United Nations inter-agency mission recommends that in-country monitoring and coordination of international emergency assistance be strengthened, in order to cope with the expected increase in the volume of donations.

19. The rehabilitation needs are immense, and all needs cannot be estimated at this stage. The mission focused on immediate relief needs of the most vulnerable populations at risk.

20. The UNDAC/United Nations inter-agency mission recommends that appropriate institutions of the United Nations system should undertake a comprehensive assessment of rehabilitation and reconstruction needs when the water recedes. Evolving emergency requirements should also continue to be assessed and appeals made, as necessary.


I. Modalities of the field mission

21. The members of the UNDAC/United Nations inter-agency mission to the south of China were; Fabrizio Gentiloni, UNDAC team leader, OCHA Geneva, Eva Johansson, UNDAC, Edward Hoekstra, WHO China, Xie Hong Yi, WFP China, Guo Rui Xiang, UNDP China, Kevin Kamp, FAO China. The mission was accompanied by two officials from the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

22. In nine days, the mission travelled over 1,300 km by bus, at times on diversion roads and in poor conditions due to the flooding. The mission crossed the Boyang Lake and visited numerous flooded areas by boat (sometimes the distance was more than five hours). The mission visited dykes and flooded lands, as well as camps with displaced victims of the floods. In the camps, the mission members had free and extensive access to interview individual victims at random and to review the situation and the most urgent needs.

II. Disaster situation in Hubei, Jiangxi and Hunan


23. In June and July the provinces in the Yangtze river basin were hit by storms and torrential rains. In July heavy rains resulted in extensive water logging, behind embankments created to prevent flooding from the numerous rivers in the province. In August, the large volume of water carried by the Yangtze from mountains in adjacent provinces aggravated the floods.

24. Most of the flooded lands visited by the mission were rural and are particularly vulnerable to seasonal flooding. The farmlands surrounding the Yangtze river and associated tributaries and lakes are protected by thousands of kilometres of dykes. Only in this way is farming possible, as the rivers often flow at levels considerably higher than the surrounding farmland (reportedly by more than 7 meters during the flooding). To increase the agricultural capacity, artificial embankments were constructed and water was pumped out of lakes and rivers, thus creating new agricultural lands. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of land have been reclaimed from lakes and rivers in this manner. The flood has taken its worst toll in those areas which previously served as natural flood plains for the Yangtze river and its tributaries. Due to destruction of forests in the formally heavily forested mountains, it is reported that silt from erosion also continues to raise the bottoms of the rivers each year.

25. The mission also visited flooded urban areas, with several large factories submerged in the Hubei province. In the same province, the mission visited an area in which dykes on a river branch of the Yangtze had been deliberately destroyed by explosives, thereby flooding rural land but preserving urban areas and infrastructure. In Jiangxi province, the mission visited a village that had been devastated by a sudden mountain flash flood.

26. The scale of the disaster was immense. The water level was still high and in several locations, the horizon of flooded lands was not visible. Provincial authorities stated that the 1998 disaster was worse than the one in 1954.

27. Most of the dykes in the Yangtze river basin that burst had been built in the 1950s following a previous severe flooding disaster. As a result of strenuous efforts, only one main dyke on the Yangtze river itself was reported to have collapsed. The team did not visit this place (Jingjiang) for logistics reasons.

28. Some of the affected areas visited by the mission had been hit by disasters earlier this year (snow storms, typhoons) compounding the effects of the floods.

29. Below is a summary of data for each province and salient features of the disaster.

Hubei Province
Population: 59 million, 187,000 sq. km, capital Wuhan.
24 million people affected and a total of 956,000 people were relocated to temporary camps on dykes two months ago.
Disaster features: natural and man-made breaking of dykes on tributaries of the Yangtze, natural collapse of secondary dykes on the Yangtze, waterlogging, flash floods from mountains, most affected area Jingjiang.

Jiangxi Province
Population: 41 million, 167,000 sq. km, capital Nanchang.
31 million people affected, 1.7 million people homeless, of which 1 million on dykes
Disaster features: breaking of embankments due to heavy rainfall on rivers flowing to Lake Boyang (the largest lake in China) already at the end of June, breaking of dykes on Lake Boyang, dykes burst on tributaries of the Yangtze as well, most affected area Boyang county.

Hunan Province
Population: 64.3 million, 212,000 sq. km, capital Changsha.
37.5 million people affected, 1,9 million homeless of which 850,000 on dykes
Disaster features: sudden breaking of dykes in this area where most of the land was reclaimed from the Dongting lake (in essence, most of the communities are "islands" surrounded by dykes), 108 out of a total of 122 counties affected of which Anxiang county most affected (310,000 people on dykes in this county alone).


30. Official figures indicate that a total of 2.22 million houses have been damaged by the floods in the three provinces. Depending on the local severity and nature of the impact of the floods, housing has been damaged in a number of ways. In the worst circumstances where dams had burst or flash flooding had occurred, entire houses and their contents have been washed away. In some cases whole villages have been swept away. In other areas houses have been submerged and some contents salvaged.

31. The impact on the rural population affected by the flood disaster is overwhelming. Five million people have been made homeless in these three provinces. Some of them are staying with relatives or other families, some in public buildings. Of the homeless, 2.9 million are lodged in makeshift shelters on dykes in the flooded areas. Their overcrowded camps extend, at times for several kilometres, over narrow stretches of land. The dykes are unprotected, with narrow banks only a few meters wide with water on both sides, and the people are totally exposed to the sun, wind, cold and rain.

32. These victims are the most vulnerable. They live in insufficient shelter made of plastic sheeting, the Government has also provided some tents. The summer heat wave with temperatures up to +39 degrees centigrade, heavy rains and winds, have aggravated their situation. The temperature, especially at night, is currently much lower and during the winter, from November to February, the temperature goes down to below zero centigrade.

33. The displaced on the dykes have already lived under extreme conditions for over two months, and since the high water will not recede completely for another two-three months, their situation is critical. There is an urgent need for improved shelter and also help to repair the houses when the water starts to recede.

Public Health

34. The flood situation has placed a severe strain on the Ministry of Health (MOH), although MOH has experience of emergency management. Medical teams have been sent both from the Red Cross and the Government from within and outside the province to assist. Epidemiological surveillance is extremely important in any disaster situation, but especially where the expected morbidity is very difficult to predict. Specific data is needed from sentinel sites, and surveys on nutrition, food quality, vectors and selected morbidity indicators. The MOH may need assistance in setting up this system, but it seems that they have the manpower and structure to implement it through the Epidemic Prevention Stations.

35. Parallel to this, reference laboratories need to be established at key points in the affected areas so that suspected cases of diseases significant to the public health can be confirmed or excluded. The MOH will need to select, equip and manage these laboratories, as well as have the capacity to transport specimens. The Epidemic Prevention Stations will be responsible for implementing this activity. Measles is likely to be a problem despite the reported high vaccine coverage levels. The cold chain in the affected areas is inadequate.

36. Although the emergency water supply on the dykes and in the affected rural areas observed by the mission seems to be under control with sufficient purified potable water, additional chlorine is essential for the purification of the contaminated water on the dykes and in the wells. At some point water quality and quantity will deteriorate and water borne diseases will become a problem. The need for oral re-hydration salts (ORS) will be significant.

37. Nutrition is currently not a major health problem. However in the coming months, it is essential that a reliable and effective monitoring system be set up. Micronutrient deficiencies also need to be assessed and addressed as part of this programme. Medicines, in particular antibiotics, are undoubtedly needed on an urgent basis. Appropriate medicines can be supplied adequately from manufacturers in China. People living in temporary shelters, are exposed to rodents and insects which may become a major health threat. Therefore, rodenticides (Stratagem) and pesticides (such as Fendona) will be necessary to control the situation and prevent outbreaks such as plague, haemorrhagic fever and malaria.

38. Village clinics, township clinics and centres, and county epidemiology prevention stations (EPS), and health facilities have been destroyed or badly damaged by the water. A significant number of water treatment plants have been damaged. In many of the camps water is collected from the river, treated with bleach and boiled. The level of sanitation was poor with sewage discharging directly into the river.

39. Clinical records in the health clinics of the relocation camps visited showed the following distribution of diagnosis for the medical visits made by the displaced people during the previous week: diarrhoeal diseases 36%, acute respiratory infections (IRAs) 32%, skin infections 16%, conjunctivitis 11%, dehydration 3% and others 2%. The UN team was not able to visit any hospitals and had no access to hospital surveillance data. In the areas visited no cases of cholera, typhoid, measles, meningitis, tetanus, plague, and schistosomiasis have been diagnosed. However, in Jingzhou county, Hubei Province (a county not visited by the team because of logistic reasons), 513 cases of schistosomiasis (an increase of 6%) were reported by the county epidemic prevention director. No infants or children with malnutrition were observed on the embankments. Three percent of the people on the embankments were hospitalized due to dehydration. Most other hospitalizations were caused by injuries from the efforts to reduce the effects of the floods. The number of beds occupied in hospitals in Anxiang county, Hunan Province, increased from 800 before the floods to 13,000 immediately after the floods (currently 3,000). Unnatural death during the floods was caused by drowning, injuries, and electrification.

40. In the disaster situation a lack of sufficient vehicles was observed which are essential for securing transport of medicines, vaccines and medical personnel.

41. Along the dykes and in the relocation camps, medical clinics were well organized to provide free health care. Surveillance activities have intensified since July 1998. The reporting frequency has increased from monthly to weekly for most diseases associated to the relief phase of floods. Daily reporting is required for cholera and plague. Routine childhood immunization has not been administered in any of the visited areas since the floods (1-2 months) and needs to be restored.


42. It is recorded that up to ten million people had initially been evacuated from flooded areas. In the first 3 days of the evacuation, ready-made food was provided. Afterwards, 0.5 kg rice per person per day was distributed. The government stated that each person would get 0.5 kg rice in the future, but that the food would not be free of charge. About 70 % of the future food need has to be borrowed, 10% is projected to be donated and the remaining 20% will come from free relief food, provided only for the most vulnerable people.


43. Southern China is agriculturally one of the richest areas of China and responsible for the vast majority of the country's rice production: the staple food of most Chinese. The timing of the flooding in southern China, therefore, could not have been worse from an agricultural standpoint. July marks the harvest time for the first of the two crops of rice grown in the area during the summer season. In addition to rice, the lowland area along the Yangtze River, its tributaries and lakes also produces significant quantities of fish, cotton, wheat, oilseeds, potatoes and vegetables. Only wheat, oilseeds and potatoes were spared by the floods as they are typically planted in the winter season. The next rice season will begin in April with the first harvest expected in mid July 1999.

44. There were two types of destruction of the standing crops. First, crops close to mountain areas were subjected to flash flooding which destroyed any field that was in the path of the water rushing from the adjacent hills which were reported to have received more than one metre of rainfall within a couple of days. While the destruction of these fields was complete and a hardship for farmers, most farmers would have lost only one crop of rice and replanted the second crop in August.

45. The greatest damage was not from flash flooding, however, but unprecedented floods from breached embankments from the Yangtze river, its tributaries and lakes and from severe waterlogging which prevented water from draining into the rivers due to their record high levels. As a result, crops in the three provinces have been submerged by up to 6 meters of water for more than two months, and are likely to stay submerged for up to another three months. The millions of farmers living in these areas lost standing crops and have been prevented from planting the normal second crop of rice or vegetables. Thousands of livestock were swept away or drowned in the floods. A huge number of livestock and poultry on dykes was reported to have perished or been sold as the people had no way to nourish them. Farm tractors, important for ploughing, could not be removed before the flood waters rose as the farmers were busy strengthening embankments to prevent even further flooding and damage.

46. There was an extensive loss of crops, particularly rice, maize and cotton. In addition, considerable areas of aquaculture were inundated resulting in loss of fish. The Government reports such agricultural losses at 2.8 million hectares of farmland affected of which 1.8 million were totally destroyed as well as losses of tens of thousands of pigs and draught animals (cattle and water buffalo) and hundreds of thousands of fish ponds.

47. The overall impact of these combined losses has been the loss of staple and cash crops, draught power and valuable livestock and poultry. With the approaching winter season, these crops cannot be replanted until next spring having a negative impact on both food and income for farm families affected by the flood for the next 10 months. The earliest potential cash crop, vegetables, could be harvested in January/February next year, followed by wheat and rape seed in May. The earliest rice harvest would be in July, 1999.

48. The provincial Government of Hubei informed the UN mission that it had plans to provide farmers with seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and tools to enable them to immediately begin farming when the flood waters recede. Bank loans were being made available to farmers and resources were being made available to the county level government offices for providing local assistance for helping farmers to re-establish their farming activities. Plans were also underway to replace livestock and poultry through the provision of 80 million chickens and ducks, one million pigs and enough vegetable seeds for 200,000 hectares.

III. National and international response

49. The Government had provided shelter material, food (mainly rice), medicines and had also established temporary schools mainly in tents, that had started on time on September 1st. The team observed that in several camps, the authorities had put up lists in central locations, with information on relief materials received and distributed.

50. There was only a very limited presence of international assistance in the field. The Red Cross and the following NGOs were active in the areas visited: Médecins sans Frontières (MsF Netherlands) and Star of Hope (Sweden).

51. There had been an in-kind donation from the US Embassy in Beijing, cash and relief items had also been donated in small quantity by a Japanese "sister-town".

IV. Conclusions

Disaster situation

52. The magnitude and impact of the flood disaster in the provinces around the Yangtze river in the south of China is overwhelming. For over two months, 2,9 million homeless people have lived in insufficient shelters on narrow dykes along the Yangtze river, its tributaries and neighbouring lakes. Crops and houses in the three most affected provinces of Hubei, Jiangxi and Hunan have been submerged by up to 6 metres of water for more than two months and the water level is not expected to recede for another two-three months.

53. The effects of excessive rainfall due to climatic circumstances were compounded by deforestation, soil erosion and the population increase in the fertile plains surrounding the Yangtze river.


54. Over 2.9 million flood victims are living in insufficient shelter on the dykes along the Yangtze river basin. They have been staying in camps for over two months, and will have to stay another two-three months, until the water recedes. Their houses have either collapsed or have been partially destroyed by the floods and most of them have lost all sources of income. They are the most vulnerable people and completely exposed to the sun, wind, cold and rain.

Public Health

55. The impact of the floods on the public health in China in 1998 has been dramatic, with a death toll of 3,004 people, and hundreds of people still missing. More than 200,000 persons were injured with thousands hospitalized. More than 4,000 medical clinics collapsed or were seriously damaged. The long stay on dykes increases the risk of serious disease outbreaks. Medical teams have been sent from within and outside provinces to assist and these teams will remain functional until the normal medical services are restored. Medical care services and medicine are provided free of charge to the victims.

56. The main diseases among the flood victims are diarrhoea, due to unsafe and inadequate water supplies, acute respiratory infections (ARI) due to crowding in temporary communal shelters, and skin infections and conjunctivitis (pink eye) due to lack of hygiene and contact with contaminated and polluted flood waters. Outbreaks of measles or serious water-and food-borne diseases such as dysentery, hepatitis, typhoid and cholera have not yet been reported. If no action is taken to control the number of rodents and insects, an increase in vector-borne diseases is likely to occur in the coming weeks. Routine childhood vaccinations were not administered in any of the visited mobile health clinics. Despite the high measles coverage among children in China, measles outbreaks can occur with crowding and the lapse in routine childhood vaccination.

57. No malnutrition was found in the areas that were observed by the UN mission. The mission noted a lack of vehicles for the transport of temperature-sensitive medicines and vaccines (cold chain) and the medical teams.


58. The Government has provided basic food in the immediate emergency phase. The Government has no known plans to provide food on a free basis except for those covered under the government relief plan.


59. During the current agricultural season, millions of farmers have lost all their crops, fish and livestock. Farmers have also lost a considerable capacity to farm in the immediate and medium term through loss of assets: money, seed, tools, machines and irrigation infrastructure. Farmers need considerable assistance to regain their capacity to farm.

60. The priority needs in the immediate future include the following, in order of priority; farm machines/ tractors for land cultivation: seeds, fertilizers; pesticides, water pumps for irrigation and drainage; hand tools for cultivation. In the longer term perspective, an in-depth assessment mission needs to be carried out when the water recedes in order to assess the damage and identify medium-term needs to facilitate the recovery of the agricultural activities in the region.


61. Numerous schools have been damaged by the floods and all pupils that are attending school on dykes use temporary shelter (mainly tents) provided by the Government. Temporary schools on dykes opened on September 1st. Most of the children have received textbooks and basic study materials. The coming colder season will however pose a problem since the tents will provide no warmth.

V. Recommendations

Required international assistance

62. It is crucial that international assistance to the flood victims in China be substantially increased, so that the conditions of the displaced people on dykes can be alleviated and their rehabilitation efforts facilitated.


63. There is a clear need to improve the living conditions of the flood victims, especially the most vulnerable homeless victims living on the unprotected dykes with insufficient shelter. They should be provided with temporary shelter materials and tents, and material for emergency repair of damaged houses when the water recedes.


64. There is a need to minimize adverse health effects on flood victims by: 1) ensuring safe drinking water to the flood victims on the dykes to prevent waterborne diseases; 2) treating infectious diseases among flood victims, which untreated may become life threatening; 3) immediately restoring the routine childhood immunization activities in the flood areas; 4) immediately assessing and improving the cold chain; 5) eliminating rodents and insects to prevent outbreak of vector-borne diseases such as plague, haemorrhagic fever and malaria; and 6) providing transport to ensure a functional cold chain for vaccines and medicines and transport of medical teams.

65. Recommended emergency relief items include; medicines (in particular antibiotics and ORS); pesticides such as Rodenticide (Stratagem) to eliminate the rodents and insects; bleach powder and chlorine for purification of contaminated water; vehicles to transport medical teams and basic medical supplies, while maintaining the cold chain.


66. Food assistance from the international community is recommended. Supplementary food for vulnerable groups is also recommended.


67. Farmers need seeds and fertilizers for the immediate fall/winter cropping system. The continuation of FAO's current programme of seeds and fertilizers for farmers is appropriate and timely. FAO should consider dispatching a team of experts to China to assess the medium-term needs of farmers.


68. The mission recommends that schools, especially primary schools, are repaired and re-equipped. The United Nations appeal should contain an allocation for immediate rehabilitation of schools, so that pupils can move out from tents on the dykes as it gets colder in winter.


69. Members of the UNDAC/inter-agency mission:
Terje Skavdal, UNDAC
Gilbert Greenall, UNDAC
Liu Xuerong, WFP, China
Ma Huiyan, UNDP, China

I. Disaster situation

Nature of the disaster

70. The worst floods in one hundred years took place in the two north-east provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang in August 1998. Official government statistics indicate that in the two provinces more than 9 million people were affected and approximately one million were made homeless. Although not visited by the assessment team, the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reports 300,000 homeless in the Autonomous Province of Inner Mongolia.

Area affected

71. The disaster area has a temperate climate with severe winters. The first frost is seen by the end of October and mid winter temperatures are as low as minus 30C.

72. The floods created lakes of more than 8000 sq. km. in the two provinces which have a population of 63 million. In the worst affected county in each province more than 60% of the area was covered by water. The flat low lying area of north-east China is drained by the Nenjiang and Songhua rivers and their tributaries but rainfall is normally low and drought that affected the region in 1997 is common.

73. The majority of the population live in houses constructed of clay. These are particularly vulnerable to flood damage


74. North-east China is a major grain producing area and the impact on the rural economy has been profound. It is the rural population, dependent on agriculture, who have been seriously affected. Many of the counties in these two provinces were designated "poverty stricken" by the national or provincial government prior to the floods. A large proportion of the affected rural population has lost everything; houses, winter clothes, animals, crops and even the irrigation systems on which they depend in normal years.

75. Although no major towns or cities were seriously affected, roads, railways, bridges, electricity/ telephone cables, schools and health centres were all badly damaged. The oil field at Daqing was also affected with 1,300 of the 10,000 wells flooded.

Secondary threats

76. Now that the floodwater is receding by 10cm a day, the fight against the floodwater has been replaced by a struggle to protect the vulnerable population against the severe winter weather. This is a serious problem and a major task for the provincial governments to provide adequate shelter, winter clothes, quilts, and fuel for cooking and heating. This is now urgently needed and must be provided within the next six weeks.

77. Despite the large number of displaced people, the majority of the people are widely dispersed. With the onset of cooler weather and the monitoring by government medical teams, the risk to public health is low. There is not thought to be a danger of an epidemic.

78. It will take another month for the flood water to recede. At this time it will be possible to assess the impact of the floods on next year's harvest.

II. National response

79. The responsibility for the organization of the disaster relief work at national level belongs to the Department of Disaster and Social Relief within the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The Ministry is responsible for the overall mobilization of national resources, and is also playing a role in the coordination of international aid.

80. The Office of Civil Affairs within the provincial government also reports to the Department of Disaster and Social Relief in Beijing. The Secretary General in the province has the responsibility to organize the disaster relief work, but the daily responsibility belongs to the disaster relief coordinator within the Office of Civil Affairs.

81. The main administrative levels below that of the province are the city, the prefecture, and the county. County administration is complex, some of them reporting directly to the provinces, others to a city of prefecture level. In the counties the magistrate is responsible for organizing the disaster relief work. However, the day to day management is in the hands of the vice-magistrate.

82. At the local level there are townships, administrative villages and hamlets. In the administrative villages the disaster relief work is the responsibility of the magistrate. In townships and hamlets, this is the task of the village leader.

83. This system of local government has been shown to be highly effective during this disaster. The mobilization of people and resources on provincial and county level and a clear strategy to fight the floods has been evident. The national strategy of self-reliance was seen at every level.

84. Local government control over the delivery of relief supplies below the level of the administrative village was less certain. In the more remote areas some hamlets had received very little or no aid at all. At this level the people themselves were active in repairing their houses and building emergency shelters with remains of collapsed buildings.

III. International response

85. A small number of tents donated by the governments of Japan, the Netherlands and Norway were the only evidence of international assistance.

IV. Required assistance

86. Although the number of flood victims is very large, many of them are concentrated in a few very severely affected counties. It is these counties and the designated "poverty stricken" counties that should be given priority.

87. With the flood waters now receding, the fight against the floods is almost over. It is the protection of the flood victims against the winter weather, which is now central to the relief operation. The provincial governments have a strategy for this final phase of the relief operation:

a. provision of temporary shelter
Many of the homeless are either with relatives or staying in collective centres. However, many are still living in the remains of their homes and require building materials for repairs or to build emergency shelters. Cement, bricks, and timber are required for this.

b. coal for heating/cooking
The winter weather can be very severe and traditionally the maize stalks are used for fuel. With the crops destroyed, this is no longer available.

c. restoration of essential services
The provincial government would like to see essential services restored as soon as possible. The repair of schools and local health clinics they consider a priority.

d. restoration of agricultural production
Although the floodwater is receding, some very low lying areas remain waterlogged. Unless this water is removed before the end of October it will freeze and there is a risk that planting will be delayed. Water pumps are needed to drain these areas.

e. food
There is no overall shortage of food in the north-east. In fact the unaffected areas will have a very good harvest. However, many government food stores have been flooded, increasing an already uneven distribution of food availability across the region. Although, maize and sorghum are the main crops in the region, livestock and fish farms are important not only to the rural economy but in ensuring that the population have a balanced diet. Large numbers of livestock were destroyed along with the fish farms. Many of the flood victims have lost everything and some form of financial assistance, loans for the purchase of food and seeds, will be necessary.

f. low-cost non food items
Many flood victims lost their hand tools and cooking pots when their houses were destroyed. Others require plastic sheeting and other supplies to repair their houses. These low cost items are all available in the province.

V. Means of delivering international assistance

88. Because of the scale of the flood disaster there was a need to identify the most vulnerable segments of the affected population and at the same time to distinguish between the overall need for development and the needs resulting from the flood. The government at all levels emphasized the need for the construction of emergency housing for the affected population before the winter, and to restore essential services as their main priorities.

89. In the affected provinces a number of counties have been designated "poverty stricken" by national or provincial authorities. The provinces have been asked by the UN assessment team to identify these counties and to produce a prioritized list of emergency requirements for each county. The purpose is to give international donors a possibility to direct their funds to the counties with the most profound needs.

90. The United Nations Disaster Management team in China will coordinate the efforts of UN agencies involved in the disaster work.

91. While the government approach in many ways can be seen as a top-down system, there is also a need for an additional approach to meet the needs of vulnerable people among the rural population, especially at the hamlet level. The Chinese Red Cross, The All China Women's Federation and smaller NGO's can play a role in the distribution of basic relief supplies during this final phase of the emergency

92. All basic commodities are available in China, and there is no need for the import of any relief supplies. However, a structure for the procurement and contracting of supplies should be established by the UN Resident Coordinator or the relevant UN agency.

VI. Conclusions


93. The extensive flooding in Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces has displaced more than one million people and in one place flooded 8000 sq. km to a depth of 2 metres. The fight against the flooding is almost over, but the fight against exposure to the severe winter weather has only just begun. Severe winter weather (-30C) is now only six weeks away and this dictates that international assistance must be provided now. A large number of flood victims do not have adequate shelter. Emergency supplies (winter clothing, fuel and quilts) have not yet been delivered to all those in need. This final phase of the emergency operation must be completed before winter.

Organizational ability

94. Despite the scale of the disaster, the planning and implementation of the emergency programme by provincial government has been hugely impressive. The mobilization of people and resources and a clear strategy to fight the floods has been evident at both provincial and county level.

Presentation of statistics

95. Detailed statistical information has been available for all aspects of the emergency operation in both provinces until the 22 August. The statistics have been useful in that they showed the scale of the problems facing the provincial governments but more focus was needed to highlight the specific needs of the most vulnerable groups and this has now been requested.

Distribution system

96. There seem to be few problems with distribution of relief supplies from province and county to administrative village. However, at the level of hamlets local officials admitted that they had little control. United Nations assessment team found evidence of this in some of the remote hamlets.

Relief management

97. A highly organized and efficient mechanism existed at provincial and county level for the management and delivery of emergency aid. This system delivers efficiently to the level of administrative village. Beyond this, the initiative is very much in hands of individual flood victims. The determination of these villagers to rebuild their homes could be encouraged by the Red Cross and The All China Women's Federation who are also able to provide low key inputs (plastic sheeting, hand-tools, small quantity of bricks, winter-clothing and quilts).

Requirement for emergency aid

98. The Chinese government has consistently showed that there is an urgent need to establish essential services for the affected population before the onset of winter. There has been a consistent request for the following items:

1. Emergency temporary housing/building materials (before the winter)
2. Coal for heating and cooking
3. Village schools and health clinics
4. Water-pumps to drain arable land
5. Food (see below)

99. The needs of the affected population would have been a staggering burden for the provincial government at any time but the floods have come a year after a severe drought in the north-east. The contribution by the international donors is at best going to be modest and must be focused on the very severely affected counties and those that have been designated by national or provincial government as poverty stricken. Within those counties the importance of emergency housing cannot be understated. Each county has supplied a list of their priority requirements (broken down into unit costs). They are looking for international donors to fund these items.


100. The north-east is a major food producing region. Those areas unaffected by the flood have had a good harvest. However, many government grain stores have been flooded and in some counties with 60% of the cultivated land under water, the harvest has been ruined. There will now be no harvest until August 1999. With the flood water still receding it will not be possible to assess the area of arable land for cultivation next year before mid October. The problem in both provinces will be the financial mechanism by which food surplus in the unaffected areas can be distributed to the flood victims.


101. At no point throughout the field trip did the United Nations assessment team observe more than 400 displaced people living together. Most of the displaced people were found in small groups. The risk of epidemic was small. The standard of water and sanitation for the displaced were often superior to those in unaffected villages. County medical teams were constantly monitoring the quality of drinking water.

VII. Recommendations

a. Immediate

102. Donors are requested to assist the provincial governments with the construction of emergency housing and provision of building materials for house repairs. Tents have been shown to be very useful for those families repairing their houses. They are also asked to fund priority items drawn up by the counties. These include the repair, rebuilding and equipping of local schools and health clinics.

There is evidence from the Red Cross that the situation in the Province of Inner Mongolia, although affecting a smaller population, has received much less attention than the other two northern provinces. The 300,000 homeless in this province must not be neglected.

b. Medium term

Construction of dykes

103. Once the emergency is over, the government has a plan to strengthen the national dyke system. This will ensure that future flooding does not pose a threat to the population and will allow the maximum cultivation of low-lying farmland.

Brick housing

104. The number of homeless would have been much reduced if more houses had been made of brick. The provincial governments would like the majority of new houses to be made of brick and this should be supported.

Location of villages

105. Many villages were flooded when crops growing a few hundred meters away on slightly higher ground (2-3m) were unaffected. The government has stressed that the villages must be rebuilt on the higher ground.

Location of government food stores

106. Some government food stores were flooded as they were situated on low ground. Others were saved only by the construction of dykes around them. The most vulnerable food stores should be moved to more secure locations.

Water and sanitation

107. Often the standard of water and sanitation provided by the local government for the temporary housing was superior to that found in the unaffected villages. In the medium term improvement in this area should be a priority.

Creation of river authorities

108. The pattern of the flooding indicated the need for river authorities to co-ordinate all aspects of flood control across provincial boundaries.

Annex I

United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (UNDAC)
Revised Terms of Reference

The United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team ensures close links between country-level and international relief coordination efforts following sudden-onset disasters. It assists in meeting international needs for early and qualified information on the situation and, when necessary, in the coordination of international relief at the site of the emergency. The following are terms of reference for the UNDAC mission to China, 8 - 24 September 1998.

When on mission in China, September 1998, the UNDAC Team:

1. assists and works under the Authority of the United Nations Resident coordinator;

2. participates in the work of the United Nations Disaster management Team (DMT) in country, in support of the relief efforts of the country affected as well as those of the international humanitarian community; UNDMT members will accompany in the field visits (Northeast and South)

3. focuses on on-site and cross-sectoral support of emergency information and response coordination, in accordance with established UNDAC field coordination guidelines. (If required, telecommunications, for the effective delivery of international assistance);

4. assists in the joint assessment of the emergency situation and international relief requirements stemming from it, with a particular view to the consistency of assessment information and relief programmes across the sectors involved and the identification of priority areas in need of in-depth problem evaluation;

5. reports to the Coordinator and informs him/her of developments in the emergency situation and other information which might be included in field and OCHA situation reports distributed to disaster relief organizations and the international community;

6. assists in the preparation of a report on the assessed needs for immediate international assistance under the leadership of the Coordinator; in this connection, the Team will focus primarily on relief needs, but also indicate requirements in the transition from relief phase to rehabilitation phase, to the extent possible;

7. assists in the preparation of the United Nations inter-agency appeal issued by the UNDMT maintains links with and reports on the progress of its mission to OCHA headquarters throughout the duration of its mission.

Annex II

Itinerary of UNDAC/United Nations Inter-Agency Mission in China
7 - 25 September 1998

Tuesday, 8 September

06:10 - Mission arrives in Beijing, check in at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel
09:00 - Briefing with Ms. Lindberg, Deputy Resident Representative, UNDP
09:30 - Joint briefing at UNDP (UNDMT and UNDP)
11:30 - Meeting with Ms. Leitner, Resident Representative, UNDP
14:00 - Briefing at Ministry of Civil Affairs

Team to the South

Route: Beijing-Hubei-Jiangxi-Hunan-Beijing
Time: September 8-16, 1998
Participants: Fabrizio Gentiloni (UNDAC team leader), Eva Johansson (UNDAC), Edward Hoekstra (WHO China), Kevin Kamp (FAO China), Xie Hongyi (WFP China), Guo Ruixiang (UNDP China), Li Baojun (Ministry of Civil Affairs, MCA), Cong Feijun (MCA Interpreter)

Tuesday, 8 September

18:25 - 20:30 - flight CZ3140 to Wuhan

Wednesday, 9 September

08:00-12:00 - Briefing by Hubei provincial authority on disaster and relief work
13:00-18:00 - Travel by bus to Pai Zhou and field visit to Pai Zhou (by boat, 70km)
Stay at Wuhan for the night

Thursday, 10 September

08:00-12:00 - Travel to Ezhou County by car and field visit in Ezhou county (by boat, 70km)
13:00-18:00 - Travel by bus to Yangxin and field visit to Yangxin (100km)
Stay at Yangxin County for the night

Friday, 11 September

08:00-12:00 - Field visit to Yangxin County by boat
13:00-18:00 - Travel by bus to Yongxiu County, Jiangxi Province (270km)
Stay at Yongxiu County for the night

Saturday, 12 September

08:00-12:00 - Field visit to Yongxiu County by boat
13:00-18:00 - Travel to Boyang County by boat, briefing by Boyang County authority
Stay at Boyang county for the night

Sunday, 13 September

08:00-12:00 - Field visit by boat to Boyang County
13:00-18:00 - Travel by boat to Nanchang
Stay at Nanchang for the night

Monday, 14 September

08:00-11:00 - Briefing by Jiangxi provincial authority
12:00-18:00 - Travel to Changsha by bus (300km)
Stay at Changsha for the night

Tuesday, 15 September

08:00-12:00 - Travel to Anxiang County (290km)
13:00-18:00 - Field visit there by boat, travel to Changde by bus (90km)
Stay at Changde for the night

Wednesday, 16 September

08:00-12:00 - Travel to Changsha by bus (200km)
13:00-17:00 - Briefing by Hunan provincial authority
18:50-20:30 - Flight CA1344 to Beijing

Total: 1320 km by road

Team to the Northeast

Route: Beijing - Jilin -Heilongjiang-Beijing
Time: 9 - 16 September
Participants: Terje Skavdal (UNDAC), Gilbert Greenall (UNDAC), Ma Huiyun (UNDP China), Han Yujiao (MCA), Chen Yonggan (MCA interpreter)

Wednesday, 9 September

08:10 - Flight 1609 to Changchun
13:00 - 18:00 - Travel by bus trip to Tongyu County (300 km)

Thursday, 10 September

08:00 - 12:00 - Field visit to Tongyu County
Afternoon - Travel to Zhenlai County (about three hours by bus)
Stay at Zhenlai County for the night

Friday, 11 September

08:00 - 12:00 - Field visit to Zhenlai County
13:00 - 18:00 - Field visit to Daan City (one and a half hours bus trip)
Stay at Daan City for the night

Saturday, 12 September

08:00 - 12:00 - Field visit to Daan County
13:00 18:00 - Travel to Tailai County of Heilongjiang Province
Stay at Qiqihar City for the night

Sunday, 13 September

08:00-12:00 - Field visit to Tuolihe Township of Tailai County
13:00-18:00 - Field visit to Daxing Township, Tailai County
Stay at Longjiang County for the night

Monday, 14 September

08:00-12:00 - Field visit to Jingxing township, Longjiang County
13:00-18:00 - Travel to Dumeng County, field visit to Bayanchagan Township, rehabilitation housing projects
Stay at Daqing for the night

Tuesday, 15 September

08:00-12:00 - Field visit to Xinzhan, Haode, Yishun of Zhaoyuan County
14:00- 18:00 - Travel to Harbin and briefing with provincial authority
Stay in Harbin for the night

Wednesday, 16 September

8:50 - 11:00 - Flight CJ6271 to Beijing

Thursday, 17 September

Prepare mission report and UN appeal

Friday, 18 September

Working session with UN Disaster management Team (UNDMT)

Monday, 21 September

Mission debriefing for the Government, UNDMT and donors

Tuesday/Wednesday, 22 - 24 September

Launching of appeal in Beijing and Geneva/New York and completion of draft mission report

Thursday/Friday, 24 - 25 September


Wednesday, 30 September

Debriefing with donors at OCHA Geneva, and distribution of final mission report

All field visits included full debriefing meetings with provincial and/or local authorities.7


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit