Floods leave more misery in China

by Hope Wiener in Beijing

Tragedy, even for those who have been facing it for years, never becomes routine.

"I could see the tears in the eyes of almost all the participants in the meeting," explained the International Federation's Programme Coordinator, Mukesh Kumar Singh, as he left an emergency planning session on Sunday with the Red Cross Society of China's (RCSC) Hunan Provincial Branch.

The meeting was held as the branch prepares for the further distribution of relief items in response to flash floods that have affected Hunan province over the past two weeks, leaving some 255,300 people homeless.

Many of the villagers who lost their homes are being sheltered in school buildings, while some have been hospitalized for health problems.

It is still early in China's annual flood season, but loss and the accompanying emotional anguish are already taking their toll on China's rural communities. On 10 June in Ning'an city's Shalan town, 350 children, like students around the world, were seated in their classrooms on a Friday afternoon looking forward to the upcoming summer break.

But at two o'clock that afternoon, flash floods triggered by mountain torrents overwhelmed the school, leaving 88 of the children dead. In total, 92 people perished in the town.

The Head of the RCSC's Heilongjiang provincial branch arrived in the affected area the same day as local Red Cross staff distributed rice, quilts, clothes and clean water to a community shrouded by grief.

Mukesh joined the Hunan Red Cross team in Xinshao county for what was one of many such sombre drives being taken throughout the country by RCSC relief teams, as they set out to assess the situation in one of the Province's most severely affected areas, Taizimiao township.

The impact of the flood grows increasingly evident the further the team drives on. Good cultivated land has been pummelled by flood waters into a sand and gravel desert, dealing another setback for the families who depend upon farming.

The situation in Taizimiao township, however, is only the beginning of the story. Over the past two weeks, a reported 304 people have died in floods and tornadoes in China, and almost 100 people are still missing.

These disasters have destroyed thousands of houses, as well as forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes, leaving all their possessions behind. Thousands of farmers have lost their crops and livestock to the floods.

Earlier this year, China's director of the Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development under the State Council voiced his grave concern over the effect that unexpected changes could have on the nearly 100 million people who precariously survive from day to day just above the benchmark of poverty.

For many of China's farmers it is precisely events such as this week's floods that could easily throw these families back into the firm grip of abject poverty.

The enormous dimensions of China's disasters can be overwhelming, but for Mukesh, who was recruited from the Nepal Red Cross, language did not prevent him from seeing that the RCSC and its local branches are effectively responding to the people's immediate needs.

Items such as quilts, clothes, tents, and medicine are a first step in helping to ease the suffering of flood victims as they cope with the initial shock of the disaster, but despite the fact that these floods happen on an annual basis the loss is a shock that no one will ever get used to.