Can flood be avoided?

Cheming Yang

Beijing has suffered from the most devastating flood in 60 years. Officials from the Beijing flood control headquarters confirmed that 77 people died in the downpour. More than 65,000 people had to be evacuated. 460mm rain fell in Beijing’s Fangshan district, with the capital as a whole averaging 170mm. About 1.9 million people had been affected by the flood and economic losses had been estimated at 10 billion yuan. Mayor Guo Jinlong had stepped down in responding to the anger of the public following this disaster.

Flood takes away lives and will have serious economic consequences as well. In the fourth quarter of 2011, Thailand also faced its worst flooding in 50 years. Flood waters swamped more than two-thirds of the country and shut down hundreds of factories. Over 900,000 families and businesses had been impacted and hundreds of lives have been lost. At least 14,000 factories had been damaged. Even the capital Bangkok was not spared.

Since Thailand is the second largest, behind China, hard disk manufacturer in the world. The Thai floods caused up to a 30% slump in hard disk production in that quarter compared to the prior period. Hard disks rose in price because of damage caused to factories and shortages continued throughout the first half of 2012.

Why does the Mayor need to step down? With the advance of technology and urban development, city residents tend to think they are well protected from natural disasters, especially the rains. When it comes to rain, it is almost the last thing that people will consider disastrous. Why can flood not be avoided? People are shocked and disappointed. The mayor became the scape goat.

The flood can only be avoided by adequate infrastructure, such as sewers, pumps, ditches and river walls. The government might have done a lousy job in constructing this infrastructure. However, there are limits in the construction of infrastructure.

I am not saying flood cannot be caused by dereliction of duty in the government. In terms of urban planning, the government has to decide how many facilities we need to build in. In the case of rainfall, we need to decide how much rainfall we can take and how we can drain the rain water into the sea. So there are like 50 year flood plan or 100 year flood plan, which means we can withstand the record high rainfall in the past 50 years or 100 years. What if we encounter the record high in the past 200 years? Then it will surpass our draining and reservoir capacities. Flood will occur even when there is no flaw in our urban planning and construction.

So why don’t we opt for a 200 year plan or 500 year plan? We can certainly do that. The question is at what cost. Are we willing to spend that much money on our contingency plans?

Economic loss is enormous when we are attacked by natural disasters. But construction costs sometimes are astronomical, too. People need to realize that the security of urban dwelling comes at a cost. We can blame the politicians as the unfortunate events unfold all we want even when they are not responsible for causing the damage. But the society as a whole still has to think logically afterwards about how much money we are willing to dump into flood prevention. And everyone will pay for it because it can only be paid by the tax.

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