Torrential rain kills dozens in southern China as climate change amplifies flood seasons

In recent weeks, heavy rains have caused severe flooding and landslides across large swathes of southern China, damaging homes, crops and roads.

In Guangxi province, landslides killed seven people on Thursday, the official Xinhua news agency reported. One person remains missing, according to the report.

In Hunan province, 10 people have been killed this month and three are still missing, with 286,000 people evacuated and a total of 1.79 million residents affected, officials told a conference in press on Wednesday.

More than 2,700 homes have collapsed or suffered serious damage, and 96,160 hectares of crops have been destroyed – heavy losses for a province that serves as a major hub for rice production in China. Direct economic losses are estimated at more than 4 billion yuan ($600 million), officials said.

Late last month, floods and landslides killed eight people in the coastal province of Fujian, five people in the southwestern province of Yunnan and two children who were swept away by torrents in the province of Guangxi.

Chinese authorities are on high alert for this year’s flood season, which began this month, after 398 people died in devastating floods caused by unprecedented rainfall in the central province of Henan l ‘last summer.

Summer floods are common in China, especially in densely populated agricultural areas along the Yangtze River and its tributaries. But scientists have been warning for years that the climate crisis will amplify extreme weather events, making them deadlier and more frequent.

Global warming has already made extreme rainfall more intense in the East Asian region, which includes southern China. The intensity and frequency of extreme rainfall events are expected to increase as the Earth warms, according to the latest scientific data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The number of powerful tropical cyclones has also increased.

Henan, which is not traditionally a region that faces regular flooding, experienced what authorities called a “once in a thousand years” downpour at some weather stations last July.
The provincial capital of Zhengzhou, which accounted for the majority of the death toll, was ill-prepared for flooding. City officials ignored five consecutive red alerts for torrential rains, which should have prompted authorities to halt rallies and suspend classes and businesses. Floodwaters gushed through the city’s subway tunnels, trapping hundreds of passengers and killing 12 of them.

The tragedy has gripped the nation, raising questions about how prepared Chinese cities are for extreme weather.

Ahead of this year’s flood season, Chinese authorities had warned that a high number of “extreme weather events” were expected to hit the country. Extreme torrential rains are likely to hit the southern and southwestern parts of the country, as well as southern Tibet, according to China’s National Climate Center.
In April, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the National Development and Reform Commission called on Chinese cities to learn from the Zhengzhou disaster and do their best to prevent urban flooding given the of the “acute influence of extreme weather events” this year.

Teresa H. Sadler