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Minister Chen's Speech at Second Sino-Swiss Workshop on Flood Control and Drought Relief
  2008-12-05 09:04  

Flood Control, Drought Relief and Disaster Mitigation in China
A Speech at the Second Sino-Swiss Workshop on Flood Control and Disaster Relief

By His Excellency Mr. CHEN Lei
Ministry of Water Resources, P. R. China
November 10th, 2008

Mitigation of flood and drought disasters and avoidance of casualties to ensure sustained healthy socioeconomic development are critical issues of common concern to the international community and pressing tasks confronting most countries in the world. The convening of the Second Sino-Swiss Workshop on Flood Control and Disaster Relief, conducting in-depth discussion about issues related to flood prevention and disaster reduction has important value in promoting Sino-Swiss exchange and cooperation in flood control and disaster relief. First of all, on behalf of the PRC Ministry of Water Resources, I would like to extend our warm welcome to related Swiss agencies and all the distinguished guests present at this workshop and our sincere gratitude to all friends that have rendered long-term care and support to China’s efforts in preventing floods and reducing disasters. I would like to brief you about China’s situation in terms of flood control, drought relief and disaster reduction, and look forward to exchanging ideas with you about these issues.

I. Floods and Droughts in China and Their Features

China is a vast country situated in the eastern part of Eurasia Continent with a total territory of 96million km2, about 1/15 of the world’s total land area. High in the west and low in the east, its terrain features natural geographical conditions that are hugely different between the east and the west and between the south and the north. Rivers in China extend a total length of 420,000km, with over 50,000 rivers enjoying a basin area of more than 100km2. The 7 major rivers are the Yangtze River, the Yellow River, the Huai River, the Hai River, the Pearl River, the Songhua River and the Liao River. Aggregate water resources in China reach 28trillion m3 while per capita water resources are only 2,220 m3, about 1/4 of the world average. Due to monsoon impact, temporal and spatial distribution of precipitation in China is very uneven. The south and the east are abundant in water while the north and the west suffer from water shortage. The southeastern coast and some of the southwestern areas have more than 2,000mm annual precipitation while annual precipitation is only 400-600mm for areas north to the Yellow River and less than 200mm for the western part of northwest China. In most areas in China, annual precipitation is concentrated in the flood season ranging from June to September; from the inter-annual perspective, precipitation for wet years is usually 2-8 times that of dry years; consecutive wet or dry years are frequent phenomenon. Such special situation of water resources makes China a country frequently hit by severe floods and droughts. Flood control and disaster mitigation are key responsibilities of Water Agencies in China, water and drought hazards have always been termed as serious risks for the Chinese nation.

Floods and droughts in China exhibit the following features:

1. High frequency. For 2,155 years between 206BC and 1949, China was hit by 1,092 major floods and 1,056 major droughts, i.e., a major flood or a severe drought every two years on average. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1st, 1949, over 50 major floods have hit the 7 major rivers including the Yellow River, the Yangtze and the Huai River while 17 severe droughts have affected extensive areas in China.

2. Extensive coverage. According to statistics, 2/3 of the Chinese territory is prone to the formation of various types of floods of various severities, among which most areas are likely to be caught in flood disasters. East and South China with over 50% of the national population, 35% of the national arable land and 2/3 of the national industrial and agricultural outputs, in particular, are exposed to severe threat of floods.  Droughts are distributed even more extensively in China, with most Chinese areas exposed to the drought threat to different extents. In spring time, for 9 out of every 10 years, droughts hit Northeastern, northwestern and north China while in summer time, some areas south to the Yangtze River suffer from severe droughts.

3. A big variety. Due to constraints of natural conditions, a considerable number of places in China suffer from either floods or droughts or both, prone not only to severe floods along the river basins of the major rivers, but also to flash floods, debris flows, landslides, typhoons and ice slush. Between the 1990s and 2008, severe floods hit China in 8 years; on average there are 7 typhoons hitting Mainland China every year; some localities suffer from frequent and severe floods and loggings; and flash floods tend to cause casualties. At the same time, victims of droughts have extended from traditional area of agriculture to urban areas, industries and the ecosystem. 400 out of the 669 cities nationwide are facing water scarcity. Losses from droughts remain high. Droughts have become one of the main constraints on sustainable development of the national economy.

4. Heavy losses. According to statistics, direct economic losses resulting from floods and droughts account for about 60% of direct economic losses caused by natural disasters in China. The middle and lower reaches of the seven major rivers and the Taihu Lake and the coastal plain areas in China are also areas with high population density and wealth concentration as well as main cotton and grain production areas and industrial bases in China. Since 1990, average losses in China due to floods and loggings have remained at around RMB110billion per annum, about 2% of GDP for the same period. This figure may rise to 3%-4% for years of basin-wide major floods. Since 1990, average national losses per annum resulting from droughts take up about 1% of GDP of the same period, or more than 2% for years of severe droughts. With rapid socioeconomic development in China, impacts of floods and droughts are intensifying year by year. 

II. China’s Efforts in Preventing Floods and Combating Droughts

Since the founding of the PRC, the Chinese government has attached high attention to the prevention and control of floods and droughts.  Continuous efforts have been exerted to summarize experiences and lessons, innovate work mechanisms, enhance structural development, and improve non-structural measures, leading to remarkable progress in capacity building for preventing floods and relieving droughts. In this process, we have also improved our understanding of floods and droughts, developed and improved the thinking for preventing floods, relieving droughts and reducing disasters, and defined explicit targets for such efforts.

The basic thinking for preventing floods, combating droughts and reducing disasters is the following: attach equal importance to flood prevention and drought relief, transform flood control to flood management, transform single-force drought relief to drought relief with pooled efforts of the whole society and thereby guarantee all-round, coordinated and sustainable socioeconomic development in China. In flood prevention, we emphasize flood risk management, i.e., effectively mitigate, accept and share risks through development of flood-prevention structures and institutional/structural innovation and improvement of the legal framework, so as to effectively avoid, withstand and reduce risks and enhance the capacity for risks. We also stress upon scientific prevention and control of floods in accordance with law, and take the interests of the upper and lower reaches, left and right banks, trunks and tributaries into balanced consideration for maximization of economic, social and ecological benefits. We focus on the need to regulate human activities, and leave space for flood water so that we can protect water and Nature from human infringements while protecting human beings from water hazards. Meanwhile, we stress upon efforts to turn floods into a resource, i.e., try all possible ways to regulate, store and utilize flood resources while ensuring safety of flood prevention. Our efforts in drought relief have expanded from agriculture to all industries, from rural to urban areas, from production and daily life to the ecological system. Integrated measures are adopted to enable our efforts more proactive and forward looking, and our early warning programs more practical. 

Our efforts in preventing floods, relieving droughts and reducing disasters aim at the following:ensure safety of flood prevention along major rivers, large and key medium-sized reservoirs, as well as large and medium cities; guarantee safe pass of the flood season along small and medium-sized rivers/reservoirs; safeguard safety of water supply for domestic consumption for both urban and rural residents; exert all efforts to satisfy the demand for production consumption of water and ecological flows; and minimize losses from floods and droughts. 

In order to achieve the above objectives for preventing floods, relieving droughts and reducing risks, we have made continuous efforts to improve the supporting framework including organizational structures, laws and regulations, early warning programs, emergency responses, emergency rescue crews and inventory of goods and materials, and reinforce key components such as forecasting, early warning, regulation, emergency rescue, disaster relief and post-disaster recovery.  As a result, we have established and improved a flood-drought emergency management mechanism that features uniform command, layered responsibilities, quick response and orderly coordination, which is mainly reflected in the following aspects:

1. An improved organizational framework for preventing floods and relieving droughts. The Chinese government attaches great attention to the prevention of floods and droughts and as early as in June 1950, established the Central Headquarters for Flood Prevention, which was restructured and renamed the State Headquarters for Flood Prevention and Drought Relief (“the State Headquarters”) in 1993. Headed by a vice premier of the State Council and with leaders of competent government authorities and the military joining it as members, the State Headquarters is responsible for organizing and leading national efforts to prevent floods and relieving droughts. His Excellency vice Premier HUI Liangyu is the current Commander in Chief of the State Headquarters. For the purpose of improving flood prevention and drought relief along the major rivers, six basin headquarters for flood prevention and drought relief (“basin headquarters”) have been established for the Yangtze River, the Yellow River, the Huai River, the Hai River, the Songhua River and the Pearl River. As provided for by the PRC Law on Flood Prevention and PRC Regulations on Flood Prevention, governments at and above the county level with flood prevention and drought relief tasks have all set up their respective command posts for flood prevention and drought relief. These command posts, led by heads of the governments at corresponding levels and joined by competent authorities and the local military, provide uniform leadership for flood prevention and drought relief efforts in their concerned localities. In addition, sectors with flood prevention and drought relief tasks such as power, telecommunication, petroleum, railway, highway, aviation and mining have also established their special bodies for flood prevention and drought relief to take charge of their respective efforts thereof. At present, China has established a fairly complete framework for organization and commandment of flood prevention and drought relief efforts at national, provincial, municipal and county levels. Local governments at all levels have set up and improved their respective responsibility systems for flood prevention and drought relief under which the administrative heads assume core responsibilities. Every year, prior to the flood season, we determine the division of duties for flood prevention at important prevention and relief sites along rivers, lakes, flood-storage-detention areas and flood-prevention cities and reinforce supervision over their performance of duties. 
2. An improved structural system for flood prevention and drought relief. Since the founding of the PRC, the Chinese government has attached huge attention to the development of structures for flood prevention and drought relief. At the moment, China has constructed and upgraded 280,000km embankments, and completed 86,000 reservoirs and 97 key flood storage and detention areas. Water supply capacity of water conservancy projects nationwide totals 659.1billion m3 while effectively irrigated area reaches 56.67million ha. As such, China has remarkably enhanced its capacity for flood prevention and drought relief. Key embankment projects along the trunks of the Yangtze and the Yellow River have met related standards; the backbone project for training the Huai River has gained progress on all aspects; a basic flood-prevention structural system is already in place along the Taihu Lake; and construction of trunk embankments along Songhua River, Liao River, Hai River and Pearl River has accelerated. Key water conservancy projects such as the Three Gorges Project and the Yellow River Xiaolangdi Project have been commissioned into operation successively. Some small and medium-sized rivers are also trained in an integrated manner. Main sections of major rivers in China have developed the capacity to prevent 100 year-return floods; small and medium-sized rivers are capable of preventing generic floods; and standards for key sea levees are raised to 50-year-return floods. At the same time, we have enthusiastically promoted the development of emergency headwater projects for drought relief, construction of small farmland water conservancy projects tailored to local conditions, and thereby enhanced integrated agricultural production capacity. In case of medium-severity droughts, neither industrial/agricultural production nor the ecological use of water will be exposed to serious impacts while water supply in both urban and rural areas is guaranteed.

3. Establishment of an emergency response mechanism for flood prevention and drought relief. To combat flooding, logging and droughts, we keep enhancing the development of an emergency response mechanism for flood prevention and drought relief covering forecasting, early warning, regulation, emergency rescue, disaster relief and post reconstruction. During the flood season, flood prevention authorities at all levels strictly implement the 24-hour on-duty system and the daily consultation system. In case of unexpected floods, droughts or other disasters, we will initiate emergency responses in accordance with the State Emergency Response for Flood Prevention and Drought Relief to prevent disasters or mitigate losses resulting from disasters with efficient and effective approaches such as joint consultation, scientific regulation, timely organization of human resources for efficient and effective evacuation, emergency rescue and disaster relief. We have also developed the Protocol on Emergency Response for Flood Prevention and Drought Relief which standardizes emergency response procedures and actions between the State Headquarters, its member organizations, basin headquarters and provincial command posts for efficient, effective, orderly and high-quality disaster relief.

4. Better capacity for early warning, forecasting and regulation. At the moment, there are over 34,000 hydrological monitoring stations and more than 8,600 flood-reporting points along rivers all over China. Most large reservoirs and key medium-sized reservoirs built for flood prevention purpose have established automatic monitoring and reporting systems and reservoir flood regulation systems. Flood forecasting systems are gradually set up along main sections of major rivers. Preliminary drought monitoring systems are also in place. In face with floods and logging, we ensure flood-prevention safety of priority areas by regulating upstream reservoirs to intercept and store floods in a scientific manner, making timely use of middle-stream flood-storage-and-detention areas to store floods and discharging floods via lower-stream river courses according to the flood regulation programs. In case of dangerous situations, we base our rescue efforts on related emergency response plans, evacuating the threatened population for effective reduction of casualties. When droughts occur, we initiate our emergency responses according to drought-relief plans, ensuring water supply for basic domestic consumption and effectively reducing losses resulting from droughts by all possible means such as enhancing regulation of reservoirs, river courses, lakes and irrigation/water supply systems, and conducting cross-basin water transfer or even restricting water consumption of some sectors where necessary.

5. An upgraded legal and institutional framework. Hitherto, China has established a preliminary legal framework for flood prevention and drought relief.  Laws and regulations already in place include the PRC Water Law, the PRC Law on Flood Prevention, the PRC Regulations on Flood Prevention, the PRC Regulations on River Course Management, the PRC Regulations on Dam Safety and the Provisional Practice Directions for Compensating the Use of Flood Storage and Detention Areas. The PRC Regulations on Drought Relief will be promulgated soon. All these have provided a legal foundation and policy support for flood prevention and drought relief as well as compensation for the use of flood storage and detention areas. Provinces in China have also produced their own supplementary laws and/or implementation rules in accordance with the concerned national laws and/or regulations. Such laws and regulations constitute a solid foundation for strengthening the “administration of water by law” in flood prevention and drought relief .For the recent years, we have improved the national emergency response framework for flood prevention and drought relief on the basis of related laws, including compilation of the State Emergency Plan for Flood Prevention and Drought Relief, improvements to programs for flood prevention or flood regulation along major rivers such as the Yangtze River, Yellow River, Huai River and Hai River and their important tributaries, and development of special emergency response programs for flood prevention in urban areas, prevention of flash floods, use of flood storage and detention areas, reservoir flood prevention and emergency rescue, drought relief, etc.
6. Sufficient human resources and inventory of goods and materials. We have organized and established flood-prevention emergency response teams (100 key national teams, 44 provincial teams and 260 city/country teams) along the 7 major rivers, key reservoirs and sea levees. The People’s Liberation Army of China and the Armed Police Force have assumed a large number of urgent, difficult, dangerous and demanding tasks in fighting floods. Since 1999, 19 special military forces for emergency response to floods have been set up. With cumulative input of over RMB2.9billion, 1,653 county teams and 9,038 township teams for drought relief have been set up, greatly enhancing the capacity of drought relief.  Mass emergency response teams with young and middle-aged residents as their backbones have also been organized in various localities. As such, China enjoys a national force for flood prevention and drought relief that features combination of experts with the general public and joint participation by both the military and civilians.  Over the years, this force has played an irreplaceable role in flood prevention and drought relief in China.  In addition, the national and provincial governments have built up a RMB3billion inventory of goods and materials for flood prevention and emergency assistance such as machines, rescue vessels and life-vests, laying a solid material foundation for flood prevention and drought relief.   

III. Achievements in Flood Prevention and Drought Relief

Since the founding of the PRC, thanks to constant improvements to the structural and non-structural systems and extensive participation of the entire society, we have overcome catastrophic floods and severe 100-year-return droughts, ensured life safety of the public in general, guaranteed safety of major rivers, large and medium-sized cities and important infrastructures and maximized security of water supply for domestic and production consumption purposes in urban and rural areas, and thereby provided a vigorous support social and economic development. 

1. Safety of flood prevention. Since the founding of the PRC, with training of major rivers and development of higher standards for flood prevention along rivers, we have reversed the previous situation of embankment failure, flooding and eventually wanton disasters. Consequently, middle and lower reaches of the major rivers have become important industrial and agricultural bases in China. Our accomplishments in preventing floods and reducing disasters have been impressive. Statistics indicates that, calculated on the constant price of 2000, flood prevention and disaster reduction efforts along the 7 major rivers and the Taihu Lake basin since 1949 have yield direct economic benefit of RMB3.69trillion, reduced inundated arable land by 160million ha in total or 2.71million ha per annum, and reduced grain loss in these areas by an estimated total of 600million tons or 10.17million tons per annum. With increasing improvement of the flood prevention system in China, annual loss of life due to floods and water loggings has been declining drastically. Take the 1998 severe flood along the Yangtze River for instance. In the great spirit of combating flood, our military and civilians achieved a full victory, ensuring safety of key areas, key cities and key transportation lines, safeguarding safe of life and property of the affected population, and minimizing losses resulting from that catastrophic natural disaster.  During the severe floods of the Huai River in 2003 and 2007, we ensured no embankment failure along the main stream of Huai River, no life loss of the affected population and minimization of losses with integration of various measures such as upper-stream reservoir interception of floods, early initiation of flood discharge via lower-stream seaward water courses and utilization of middle-stream flood storage areas at appropriate time points. 

2. Safety of water supply. According to statistical analysis since 1991, full drought-relieving efforts have enabled a total area of 30.50million ha per annum access to irrigation during the drought periods, saving grain loss of 40.59million tons per annum on average and addressing temporary difficulty of 26.03million people and 20.42million cattle in accessing drinking water. In 2001, China was caught in a catastrophic drought.  During the peak period, China input 132million people and RMB14.6billion in drought relief. As a result, a total area of 37million ha was irrigated despite the drought, which saved grain loss of 68.20million tons, while 35.26 million people and 27.34 million cattle were helped out of their temporary difficulty in accessing drinking water. Recently, we have implemented emergency water transfer programs that diverted water from the Yellow River to Tianjin for 4 (times) to ensure safety of urban water consumption in the City of Tianjin. Since 2004, China has organized 4 rounds of emergency water transfer along the Pearl River to suppress salt tides and replenish fresh water, which effectively safeguarded security of water supply for the Pearl River Delta and Macao SAR. The social benefits are remarkable.

3. Effective ecological water recharge. Over the recent years, for the purpose of mitigating the serious ecological crisis in some parts of China resulting from water shortage and expressed in the form of wetland degradation, we have organized inter-basin long-distance water transfer, which has produced distinctive ecological and social benefits, especially so with regards to projects that diverted water from recharged water to Zhalong Wetland, and provided ecological water recharge to the down streams of Hei River and Tarim River. Such water recharge increased water surface of sea-oriented wetland to over 9,000 ha, enabled a large number of dried-up billabongs along the transfer line access to large amount of inflow replenishment, raised ground water table of the protected areas by 0.70m, and recharged over 30million m3 to ground water. The two rounds of water transfer from the Yellow River to Baiyangdian totaling 250million m3 greatly improved the eco-environment of Baiyangdian. After water recharge, water surface of Zhalong Wetland has expanded from 100km2 to over 500km2, along with great improvement to the wetland eco-environment. In the case of blue algae outbreak in the Taihu Lake in May 2007, we transferred water from the Yangtze River to the Taihu Lake. With 1billion m3 of water diverted from the Yangtze to the Taihu Lake and its nearby river network, we effectively improve the water environment of the lake, achieving very good social, economic and ecological benefits.

IV. Case Studies regarding China’s Responses to Floods, Logging and Typhoons

1.Scientific prevention and control of the 2007 Huai River Flood

The Huai River is the natural geographic watershed between south and north China. The complex and variable climate of this transitional area leads to frequent occurrence of storms and floods along the Huai River. Between the last ten days of June and the end of July 2007, the Huai River basin was caught in 37 consecutive days of extensive storms with average areal rainfall reaching 430mm, or 3 times of that for the corresponding period of an average year. As a consequence, the mainstream and all tributaries of the Huai River went beyond the warning water level, and remained so for as long as 30 days. At some sections of the river, water level exceeded that of designed floods of their embankments, or even exceeded the record monitored level. According to relevant statistics, the 2007 flood volume of Huai River is the second largest since the founding of PRC, next only to that of the 1954 basin flood.

In face with such a challenging flood fighting situation, we put into full play the overall benefits of the Huai River Flood Prevention system via rational decision making plus scientific flood control in accordance with the principle of flood prevention and regulation (“upper-stream storage, middle-stream passage, and lower-stream discharge”) as indicated in the Program for Flood Prevention along the Huai River. At the upper stream, 18 large reservoirs intercepted and stored 2.1billion m3 of flood flow and reduced peak flood by more than 80%, minimizing flood-prevention pressure on the lower stream. Flood discharge of the lower-stream water courses flowing into the Yangtze and the sea was increased ahead of time while the water level of Hongze Lake was reduced by more than 0.4m, so as to facilitate smooth discharge of floods from middle and upper streams. 10 flood storage areas were initiated on time, which stored 1.5billion m3 of flood water and reduced water level of the river course by 0.2-0.4m. Such scientific regulation of the flood-control structures put floods under a controllable state throughout that period.

According to statistics, during the 2007 Huai River Flood, we evacuated 800,870 people in the emergency. The whole event incurred no life loss, no dam failure, and no trunk embankment collapse. Our efforts reduced inundated arable land by 2.155million ha, protected 18.903million population and 28 urban cities from flooding, and decreased economic losses by RMB138.44billion. Thus, we ensured flood-control safety of key areas along the river and minimized losses resulting from the disasters.

2.Effective prevention of the typhoon disaster

China is one of the countries prone to most severe impacts of typhoons. On average there are 7 typhoons making landfall on coastal China every year, which figure may range from 3 in the least to 12 in the most. Typhoon storm surges not only bring severe disasters to coastal areas but also extend into inland areas leading to basin-wide severe floods, flash floods, landslides and debris flows.

For 2008, 9 typhoons or tropical storms have formed in northwest Pacific (including the South China Sea), 10 of which hit China in succession, exhibiting the following four features. (1) Early landfall. Typhoon Racoon, the first typhoon of 2008, hit China’s Hainan Province on April 18th, and therefore becomes the earliest typhoon hitting China in any given year, as its landfall was half a month ahead of the earliest historical record and over two months earlier than the landfall of the first typhoon of an average year. (2) Large number of typhoons making landfall in China. Hitherto there are over 10 typhoons or tropical storms hitting China this year, many more than the number of any corresponding historical period. (3) Concentrated time of landfall. For the 10 days between September 25th and October 5th alone, there were 4 typhoons affecting China successively, namely, Hagupit, Changmi, Megkhla and Higos.(4) Heavy losses. This year, typhoons have affected 33.75million people and 1.4million ha of crop area, inundating an area of 674,000 ha in 11 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities), causing direct economic losses of RMB27.5billion.

The Chinese government always regards safeguarding of life safety as the top priority of typhoon control. Our efforts focus on “prevention”, “escape” and “relief” so as to “avoid loss of life and reduce injuries”. Prior to the landfall of a typhoon, we emphasize “prevention” with earnest efforts exerted to improve typhoon forecasting and warning, eliminate potential safety risks and make full preparation for prevention of strong wind, storms, high tides, flash floods and logging in urban areas. When the typhoon arrives, “escape” is the main theme. We try our best to do timely evacuation and avoid casualties with focus placed on helping offshore vessels return to refuge harbors and transferring those working offshore or at dangerous premises to safe places. After the typhoon, “relief’ is the focus. We shift our priority to timely relief and assistance so that the concerned population may access timely and effective settlement and support.

Statistics indicate that different localities in China evacuated 4.152million people and organized 650,000 offshore vessels back to safety in this year’s typhoon control efforts, which greatly reduced the number of casualties.  The loss of life, the number of affected population and the number of collapsed buildings due to typhoons this year are 70%, 20% and 60% fewer respectively than those of the corresponding period of an average year. It is fair to say that our good hard efforts have led to minimization of losses resulting from typhoons.

3. Successful emergency water transfer along the Pearl River to suppress salt tides and replenish fresh water
Over the recent years, the Pearl River has been caught in consecutive droughts. Due to joint impacts of increasing growth in water consumption, declining water inflow from the upper reach and undercutting of the river course, the estuary of the Pearl River suffers from intensifying salt tides, which poses a severe threat to safety of water supply in Pearl River Delta areas such as Macao SAR and Zhuhai city.

To address the pressure on water supply due to salt tides, we successfully organized emergency water transfer along the Pearl River to suppress salt tides and replenish fresh water for the four dry periods between 2005 and 2008. Based on careful forecasting of basin water regime and estuary salt tides, we carried out uniform regulation of large reservoirs, hydropower stations and important diversion gates in the river basin for urgent increase of estuary flow upon tidal ebb to divert fresh water and suppress salt tides at the best time points. This measure has been very effective in curbing the salt tides and ensuring normal water diversion at the lower reach, not only safeguarding safety of water supply in Macao SAR and Zhuhai city but also satisfying water demands for purposes of hydropower generation, navigation and ecological flow and improving water quality and water environment of the downstream river network.

4.Full response to the snow storms

From mid January onward, most areas in South China suffered from severe snow storms. The snowstorm disaster, featuring intensive snowfall, long duration, extensive coverage and heavy losses, brought severe losses to water works such as urban and rural water supply systems, irrigation and drainage systems, rural hydropower stations and hydrological facilities. Statistics indicates that 18 provinces (regions) were severely impacted by the snowstorm, e.g., 1,729km embankments, 10,100 reservoirs and appurtenant structures, 7,795 hydrological facilities, 109,000 headwater works, and 81,900km water-supply pipelines were damaged, which resulted in difficulty of 49.235million people in accessing drinking water.

In face with such catastrophic snowstorms, under the unified direction of Chinese government we made urgent mobilization and developed a comprehensive layout to facilitate full disaster relief efforts. (1) Ensured water supply for domestic consumption. Relevant measures included reinforcing daily maintenance and touring inspection of water-supply facilities and pipelines, setting up emergency repair teams for timely repair of damaged equipment and pipelines and enhancing inspection and maintenance of reserve water sources. (2) Safeguarded power supply for production and daily life in the affected areas. We scheduled hydropower projects in a more scientific manner. For areas with reliable transmission lines, hydropower plants increased their output to ensure power supply for households and important sectors. We also organized snow and ice disaster emergency rescue teams to assist local government in its efforts to ensure power supply. (3) Improved scheduling of goods and materials for disaster relief. A large quantity number of goods and materials for disaster relief were urgently transported to assist with disaster relief efforts. (4) Reinforced supervision over safe operation of water works. During that period, we reinforced monitoring of the operation of water works, as well as safety inspections and freeze-proof maintenance of water works to ensure safe operation of water works.

5.Victory of water-related disaster relief after the Wenchuan earthquake

The May 12th Wenchuan Earthquake is the most destructive earthquake since the founding of People’s Republic of China, featuring most extensive repercussions and greatest difficulty in disaster relief. This catastrophic earthquake caused huge losses of life and property and severe damage to water works. Relevant statistics shows that the earthquake damaged over 2,000 reservoirs, endangered more than 800 hydropower stations, destroyed over 1,000km embankments, and gave rise to 104 dammed lakes as a result of landslides 8 provinces including Sichuan, Gansu, Shaanxi and Chongqing, all of which severely threatened life safety of the concerned population. At the same time, large parts of water supply systems were paralyzed, exposing 9.556million population to difficulty in accessing drinking water. 

In face with such an unexpected catastrophe, the Ministry of Water Resources pooled efforts and resources of the entire sector for water-related disaster relief under the resolute leadership of the Chinese Government. We worked at the forefront of disaster relief despite dangers such as strong after quakes and landslides, and urgently mobilized 1,780 water experts, exploration and design professionals and repair/maintenance workers to form 80 working groups, 46 urgency repair teams and 91 design teams. These groups and teams, together with employees of the water authorities at various levels, classified dangers and risk exposures of the dammed lakes, quake-damaged reservoirs, hydropower stations and embankments, and developed site-specific, reservoir-specific or station-specific programs for risk elimination or mitigation for effective implementation of emergency measures. At the same time, 3,881 large construction machines and emergency equipment such as excavators, bulldozers and loaders were urgently mobilized while flood-prevention goods and materials were timely scheduled and transported to support the overall disaster relief efforts.  Thanks to such arduous efforts, we effectively prevented secondary disasters after the May 12th earthquake. None of the quake-damaged reservoirs or hydropower stations failed; none of the quake-damaged embankments collapsed; while risks of dammed lakes were successfully eliminated, and the area withstand the test of floods. All of above-mentioned efforts ensured safety of life and water supply for the people—indeed there wasn’t a single case of casualty in these regards. We won a great battle in water-related disaster relief.

When we fought this battle, our efforts in eliminating risks of the Tangjiashan dammed lake attracted attention from home and abroad.   The dammed lake was situated by the Qianjing River at the upper reach of the Tongkou River in Beichuan County of Mianyang City in Sichuan Province. Its landslide part extended 612m perpendicular to the river and 803m horizontal to the river. The lake, with a 82-124m barrier height, a volume of 20.37million m3, an upper-stream catchment of 3,550km2 and a maximum water storage capacity of 320million m3, severely threatened the safety of life and property of the over 1.3million people at the lower stream. When eliminating risks of the Tangjiashan dammed lake, we regarded safeguarding life safety of the people as our top priority.  Structural elimination of risks was carried out according to the guiding principle of “safety, efficiency and scientific rationality”. Water experts explored and inspected the dammed lake in a comprehensive manner in face with frequent after quakes, rolling rocks and blocked roads.  Based on multiple rounds of consultation, careful analysis and sufficient demonstration, they developed a program for elimination of risks with structural approaches, i.e., to dredge a discharge channel at the natural carved pass of the barrier body, and brought all kinds of construction equipment to the site with the heavy-load helicopter. At the same time, water experts instructed and assisted local governments in their efforts to produce programs for evacuating the concerned population. Consequently, the 277,600 threatened the population at the lower reach was transferred to safety on time. Overcoming various difficulties such as tight time schedule, heavy tasks, intensive work load, limited space of operation and harsh weather, the emergency rescue team dug a 475m-long discharge channel with an upper-stream depth of 12m and a lower-stream depth of 13m after hard work of 7 days and 6 nights, excavating 135,500m3 of earth and rock and completing the construction task ahead of time. 

On the morning of June 7th, the discharge channel of the Tangjiashan Dammed Lake began to discharge water, the maximum discharge reached 6500 m3/s. By 14:00pm of June 11th, the upper-stream water level of the lake declined to 714.13m, a reduction of 28.97m; corresponding water storage declined from 246.6million m3 at the time of maximum water level to 86.1million m3, a decline of 160million m3. The discharge process caused no casualty of people and no damage to important infrastructure downstream. The overwhelming threat of the Tangjiashan Dammed Lake was thus successfully eliminated, a wonder in world’s history of handling large-scale dammed lakes. 

V. Experiences Accumulated in Flood Prevention and Drought Relief

In our long-term flood prevention and drought relief efforts, we have accumulated valuable experiences. In summary, they cover the following 8 aspects:

1. Human orientation. When combating sudden floods and droughts, we always regard life safety of the Chinese people as the top priority. As such, we have done our utmost to ensure safety of life and water supply for the people and minimize losses of life and property of our people.

2. An effective responsibility system. Flood prevention, drought relief and disaster mitigation are comprehensive efforts involving multiple areas and stakeholders. Only by implementing various responsibility systems focusing on responsibilities of administrative heads can we effectively organize all sectors and mobilize all social forces for flood prevention and drought relief. Only by clear division of duties may we ensure that flood prevention and drought relief efforts are effectively carried out at all levels and in all concerned aspects.

3. Focus on prevention. China is frequently hit by floods and droughts. With the current level of science and technology, it is very hard for us to provide accurate medium and long-term forecasting about the time, venue and severity of disasters. Only when we focus on prevention can we keep ourselves alerted all year round and make early arrangements to optimize various emergency response programs, make full preparation in all concerned areas and eventually win the battle against flood and drought disasters.

4. Unified leadership. Efforts in flood prevention and drought relief involve interests of the upper and lower streams, of the left and right banks and of urban and rural areas. We must coordinate relationship among domestic, production and ecological consumption of water in different areas. Under the current water systems and structural conditions, only via uniform leadership and scientific scheduling can we ensure safety of flood prevention and upgrade water use efficiency and benefits.

5. Prevention and control by law. Administration by law is an important symbol of a modern rule-by-law country. In flood prevention and drought relief, we must vigorously implement related laws and regulations, standardize procedures and behavior of flood prevention and drought relief, incorporate flood prevention and drought relief efforts into the trajectory of rule by law and ensure orderly and efficient completion of all related tasks.

6. Scientific prevention and control. Flood prevention and drought relief efforts are important, complex and long-term, requiring our respect to natural rules, and adoption of multiple measures that are complementary to each other. While effectively controlling floods, we also need to provide a way out for floods. While actively fighting and relieving disasters, we also need to proactively mitigating risks and reducing disasters. While ensuring safety of flood prevention in key areas, we also need to take other areas in general into consideration, so as to minimize losses resulting from disasters.

7. Improvement to the concerned frameworks. The inevitable and unexpected nature of floods and loggings determines the long-term and arduous nature of flood prevention and disaster reduction efforts. As such, we must keep improving the structural and non-structural systems for flood prevention, drought relief and disaster reduction to upgrade our capacity of responding to such disasters.

8. Public participation.  In preventing us against floods and droughts, we must integrate expert teams with grass-roots forces and combined military with civilian efforts. The strength of our flood prevention and drought relief efforts lies in full mobilization of all communities, reliance on the public in general, respect to the public will, and concentration of public wisdom.

Despite such remarkable achievements in flood prevention, drought relief and disaster-mitigation and accumulation of experiences thereof, we are fully aware that with intensifying global warming, we will encounter a larger number of more frequent extreme climatic events. For rivers in China, flood prevention standards are limited while related infrastructures remain weak. There are prominent problems in development and management of flood storage and detention areas as major rivers contain a large number of risky sections while small and medium rivers and reservoirs are poor in flood prevention. Many dry areas are insufficient in drought-relieving capacity as they lack supplementary water-diversion facilities for irrigation purpose and suffer from poor water-saving mechanisms. Water and droughts remain a paramount risk for the Chinese nation.
At present and for years to come, China will enter an important period in its efforts to accelerate its industrialization, informatization, urbanization, market-oriented transformation and internationalization, and a critical period for its all-round and accelerated development of a well-off society on all fronts and modernization of the whole nation. As such, flood prevention, drought relief and disaster mitigation need to meet new and higher requirements. We therefore should established the scientific outlook on development and construct a better system for flood prevention, drought relief and disaster reduction in accordance with the requirements of establishing a harmonious society with focus placed on preventing major floods, combating major droughts and relieving major disasters. For this end, we will explore effective measures to respond to floods and droughts, reinforce management of emergency responses, and upgrade capacity for flood prevention and drought relief on all fronts.  We hope that by such efforts, we will ensure safety of flood prevention and water supply and eventually make greater contribution to sustainable social and economic development in China and happiness and well being of the Chinese people.

The following specific measures will be achieved. (1) Accelerate structural development. Efforts will be made to enhance development of embankments, reservoirs and flood storage/detention areas and training of river courses, optimize layouts of water structures and approaches of regulation and operation, and fully realize comprehensive benefits of the structural system for prevention of floods. (2) Improve early warning and forecasting. We will enhance prediction and forecasting of short and medium-term weather, water and precipitation regimes so as to improve accuracy of forecasting, extend the time framework of prediction and thereby provide support to scientific decision making. (3) Enhance emergency management. We will promote the development of an emergency management system for flood prevention and drought relief and improve the emergency response programs thereof so as to give rise to an interactive mechanism featuring standard management and orderly coordination. (4) Ensure a participatory approach. We will define and implement the division of duties for governments at all levels and all competent authorities, mobilize the public in general, and integrate military and civilian efforts for gradual formation of investment and assurance mechanisms that attract participation by all communities. (5) Better policies and regulations. We will coordinate considerations of all stakeholders, safeguard interests of the public, regulate socioeconomic development activities, and standardize efforts related to emergency response, flood-prevention scheduling, disaster relief and economic compensation. (6) Promote technological innovation. Vigorous efforts will be made to research and extend scientific, practical and state-of-the-art technologies, materials and equipment for flood prevention so as to improve the technical level and competetenil in the field of flood control and drought relief.

VI. Suggestions on Further Boosting Sino-Swiss Exchanges and Cooperation

China and Switzerland enjoy long-term friendly cooperation. The PRC Ministry of Water Resources and Federal Office for the Environment of Switzerland, in particular, are engaged in frequent high-level mutual visits and close technical cooperation. We have carried out a rich variety of fruitful bilateral exchanges in areas such as water resources management, flood prevention and disaster reduction, control of flash floods and protection of the water environment. Since 2003, China and Switzerland have successfully implemented the bilateral cooperation project on flood forecasting along the Yangtze River, which has greatly enhanced the Yangtze River flood-forecasting capability. Today, the joint convening of the Second Sino-Swiss Workshop on Flood Prevention and Disaster Reduction symbolizes that our bilateral water cooperation has entered a brand new stage.

Such exchanges and cooperation have not only provided us with the opportunity to learn from the successful Swiss experiences but also promoted improvement in China’s capacity for flood prevention and water resources management, and furthermore cemented our friendship.   Through such cooperation, Mr. G?tz and I have become old friends.  When China suffered from the catastrophic snowstorms and earthquake and when we were devoting ourselves to eliminating risks of the dammed lakes, Mr. G?tz wrote to me many times, expressing his condolence to China and providing me with continuous encouragement and support.  Such sympathy and sincerity touched me enormously.   Friends in need are friends indeed.  We will always remember such encouragement and support.

Today, there are more and more international friends paying attention to China’s development. There is also an increasing number of international colleagues caring for the development of China’s water sector.  Water issues in China are very complex. We sincerely hope that we can carry out all forms of communication and cooperation on water with all countries in the world including Switzerland to seek common development. If I may, I would like to put forward 4 suggestions with regard to further bilateral water cooperation between China and Switzerland.

(1) Enhance high-level mutual visits and technical exchanges, and convene workshops on water issues such as flood prevention and disaster reduction on a regular or non-regular basis for mutual learning and understanding.

(2) Enhance technical cooperation.  I suggest we conduct joint research and seek new cooperation in areas such as flood prevention and disaster reduction, control of flash floods and protection of the water environment on the basis of the existing Sino-Swiss Project on Yangtze River Flood Forecasting.
(3) Boost exchanges and cooperation for better capacity building. I suggest we conduct personnel training and technical exchanges in areas of common interest. 

(4) Enhance bilateral coordination and cooperation in international water events.

This workshop provides another excellent opportunity for us to learn from each other. I hope that Chinese and Swiss participants will speak up your minds at the workshop so that we can jointly produce comments and recommendations for better flood prevention and disaster reduction in our two countries. I am confident that through further bilateral communication, our cooperation will enjoy full progress.

Finally, I wish the workshop a great success and our two peoples everlasting friendship, and I wish Sino-Swiss cooperation achieve more fruitful results!

Thank You!