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Anger in China over flooding of towns to save Beijing. Here's what happened

Reuters |
Aug 06, 2023 11:09 AM IST

China Floods: "Beijing should foot the bill", wrote a netizen on the popular Chinese microblog Weibo.

Nearly 1 million people in China's northern Hebei province were relocated after record rains forced authorities to channel water from swollen rivers to some populated areas for storage, sparking anger online over the homes sacrificed to save Beijing.

China Floods: Rescue workers deploy life rafts for evacuating residents during floods in Zhuozhou in northern China's Hebei province.(AP)
China Floods: Rescue workers deploy life rafts for evacuating residents during floods in Zhuozhou in northern China's Hebei province.(AP)

The vast Hai River basin covers an area the size of Poland that includes Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin. Over a span of one week from late July, the region with a population totalling 110 million experienced its most serious flooding in six decades, with Hebei, particularly Baoding prefecture, the worst hit.

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According to flood control laws, when basin-wide flooding causes reservoirs, the first line of defence, to exceed their limits, water may be temporarily channelled to so-called "flood storage areas" - including low-lying populated land.

On July 31, Hebei province opened seven of its 13 designated flood storage areas, including two in the city of Zhuozhou in Baoding south of Beijing and north of Xiongan, a zone President Xi Jinping aims to develop into an economic powerhouse serving Hebei, Beijing and Tianjin.

On Aug. 1, Hebei's Communist Party Secretary Ni Yuefeng called Xiongan a top priority for the province's flood prevention work, according to local state media.

On his visit to flood storage areas in Baoding, Ni added that it was necessary to reduce the pressure on Beijing's flood control and create a "moat" for the Chinese capital.

"Beijing should foot the bill", wrote a netizen on the popular Chinese microblog Weibo.

In other posts on Zhuozhou, netizens said residents weren't aware they lived in a flood storage area and the rights of the minority had been sacrificed.

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"I'd like to know, among all the people living in flood storage areas across the country, how many of them know they are living in such areas?" one angry netizen asked.

Phone calls to the Hebei provincial government on Sunday seeking comment went unanswered. It did not immediately respond to an email.

Record-breaking rains in Baoding led to the overflowing of 67 of its 83 small reservoirs and water in all of its 10 large reservoirs rising to dangerous levels, the Baoding government said on Saturday.

"When the flood is too large and exceeds the defence capacity of the embankment, it becomes an inevitable need for flood control to use flood storage areas," the official China Water Resources News said in a post on Weibo on Aug. 1.

"This is also for the sake of protecting the overall situation. You have to sacrifice one part for the sake of the bigger whole."

As of 8:00 a.m. (0000 GMT) on Friday, Hebei had relocated more than 1.54 million people, including 961,200 from flood storage areas, state media reported on Saturday.

Residents in flood storage areas "have given up their homes to protect everyone", and will be compensated according to the law, said a department of the Ministry of Water Resources.

On Saturday, authorities of Bazhou city in another part of Hebei expressed "heartfelt thanks" to residents for following orders and evacuating their homes ahead of time.

A compensation review for damaged agricultural production and housing will be conducted when the flood recedes, they said.

But not all citizens appeared convinced.

A video reposted X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, on Saturday appeared to show citizens unfurling a banner outside the entrance of the Bazhou municipal office that said, "Taking my home is the clear aim of the flood water discharge, but you said it's all due to the rain".

Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

"One small part of society is still big, and their sacrifice has been profound," a netizen lamented on Weibo.

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