Relief operation underway in disaster prone China

from DisasterRelief
Published on 06 Sep 2002
Written by Mason Anderson,
Extreme weather that has plagued China for more than two months has left the country experiencing one of the most severe flood years since 1998. At least 140 million people have been affected, including 1.3 million that have been left homeless, and 1,123 have been killed in floods across the country. Although annual deluges typically sweep through China during its monsoon season, typhoons and pre-wet season downpours have triggered deadly flash floods, and landslides have left the country reeling and in immediate need of assistance from international relief organizations.

Beginning in early June, torrential downpours pounded central and southern China, triggering flash floods that killed 470 residents. More than 430,000 homes were destroyed by the floodwaters and an estimated 75 million residents were affected.

Officials believe that severe droughts in the hardest hit Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces contributed to the high level of destruction. Years of coping with dry conditions have left residents with no warning signs and few resources to cope with floodwaters.

More heavy rains continued through July, but in August came the most severe weather. On August 5, typhoon Beimian brought tropical storm Kammuri to parts of Guandong, Fujian and Hunan provinces, triggering flash floods and landslides. At least 153 people were killed by the typhoon and more than 6 million residents were affected in 108 counties of the three provinces.

Damages throughout the region were massive, particularly in the hardest hit province Hunan. Some 72,000 homes collapsed and 173,000 others were damaged. Crops were also severely affected, with 60,000 hectares washed away and another 292,000 hectares suffering damages.

Meanwhile, in the southern Yunnan province, two weeks of constant intense rainfalls in early August inundated large areas of the Nujiang River Basin. Flash floods and landslides claimed the lives of 106 residents and injured 331 others. More than 8,000 homes were washed away, 22,000 others were damaged and another 64,000 hectares of crops were lost.

Throughout mid-August, downpours continued in Hunan as well, a region still reeling from the effects of tropical storm Kammuri. In the northern region of the province, thousands of army troops and volunteers stood guard along Dongting Lake, China's second largest lake that spans a distance twice the size of Hong Kong, reinforcing embankments with sandbags and keeping a close eye on its series of dikes. By August 30 they could breathe a sigh of relief as water levels receded below warning marks, saving the homes of millions of residents.

Despite the ebbing waters, the Yangtze River remains high, causing officials to fear that the worst of the flooding may still be ahead.

Red Cross Rushes Aid to Affected Residents

The Red Cross Society of China (RCSC) was one of the first responders to the flooding. Beginning in June, the RCSC coordinated with government agencies to assist in a variety of relief operations, including providing first aid for the injured, distributing relief goods from its disaster preparedness stocks and supplying more than $400,000 in relief funds. To prevent the outbreak of diseases common after severe flooding, dozens of mobile medical teams comprised of RCSC doctors were dispatched to the hardest-hit regions.

Since the relief effort began, the Hong Kong Red Cross (HKRC) has donated more than $1.643 million to support the operation of the RCSC. The HKRC donations have been used to procure 1,000 tents, 30,000 cotton coats, 17,000 quilts, 8 light trucks and other materials which will be sent to 8 of the most seriously affected provinces, including Hunan and Sichuan, before the coming winter.

On September 1, four members of the HKRC traveled to Guangxi, a hard-hit region in southern China, to assess the disaster situation, monitor the progress of relief operations and the usage of Hong Kong citizens' donations, and assist in distributing more than 600 tons of rice.

On June 25, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an appeal for $3.34 million targeted to providing food, shelter and water purification systems.

More than $1.91 million, including a $100,000 donation from the American Red Cross and $300,000 from the U.S. government, has been raised directly through the IFRC's appeal. The total amount raised has been used to develop a plan of action for eight provinces that have been seriously affected. The appeal will also aid vulnerable sects of the population, such as the elderly and families with very low incomes.

Assistance will include the distribution of items such as food, tents and water purification powder.

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