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Flood Prevention, Drought Relief and Disaster Reduction in China
  2009-04-17 09:12  

——Keynote Speech at the Special Session on Extraordinary Natural Disasters and Risk Management of Water Infrastructures of  the 5th World Water Forum
By H. E. Chen Lei
Minister, Ministry of Water Resources, P.R. China

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the season with sights and sound of spring, we gather in the beautiful city of Istanbul for taking part in the World Water Forum and finding solution for flood control and drought relief. It is widely known that the protection against extraordinary natural disasters, effective management and utilization of water infrastructures, safeguarding people’ lives and sustaining socioeconomic development are not only key issues attracting world attention but also pressing tasks faced by most countries. First of all, on behalf of the Ministry of Water Resources, P. R. China—the organizer of this special session, I would like to extend our warm welcome to all the ministers, officials, specialists and friends attending this session. Profound and heartfelt thanks are given to those governments of countries and international organizations that contribute to the preparation of this session. In the following speech, I shall cover three topics.

1.Floods and droughts are the most severe natural disasters confronted by human being

A world-wide view of history does give a picture of frequent occurrence of floods and droughts that usually cause heavy property losses and casualties. According to statistics of the United Nations, from 1991 to 2005, more than 3,300 floods, thunderstorms and droughts were reported all over the world, accounting to 64% of all natural disasters. The affected population of the three disasters reached 3.4 billion, accounting for 98% of the total; cumulative economic losses thereof amounted to 916.7 billion Yuan, accounting for 77% of the total; the death toll numbered 410,000 or 43% of the total, next only to that of earthquakes and tsunamis. Moreover, extraordinary natural disasters have taken place frequently. Over the recent years, the number and severity of flood and drought disasters are on the rise.

Asia overtakes all other continents not only in terms of the number of natural disasters and the size of affected population and severity of economic losses thereof in general, but also the number of floods and droughts and the size of affected population and severity of economic losses thereof in particular, which all amount to nearly 40% of the world total. Asia has become one of the regions in the world that are most affected by floods and drought disasters. 

Due to its special geographic climate conditions, China is vulnerable to severe floods and droughts.

· First, China suffers from all types of natural disasters, with high frequency of flood, drought, typhoon and mountain flood and mudflow.

· Second, high frequency of disasters. Since the founding of P. R. China in 1949, more than 50 extraordinary floods and 17 wide-spreading severe droughts have hit China.

· Third, extensive distribution of disasters. 2/3 land area in China is prone to flood disasters of all types and severities, and most of the places suffer from drought disasters of varied degree. In particular, the economically developed eastern and southern parts, boasting over 50% of the national population, 35% of the national cultivated land and 2/3 of the national value of industrial and agricultural outputs, are most severely threatened by flood disasters.  

· Fourth, heavy losses. Since 1990, the average loss resulting from floods has amounted to about 1.5% of GDP of the same period, and the average economic loss resulting from droughts has been over 1% of GDP of the same period. Although amount of loss has been reduced dramatically, it is still much higher than that of the developed countries.  

2.Efforts of the Chinese Government in flood control and drought relief

The Chinese Government has paid great attention to flood prevention and drought relief. Recent years, in accordance with local conditions and the requirements made in the Agenda 21, China has made great efforts in flood control and drought relief so as to perform its commitments and fulfill its duties. The Chinese Government regards flood control, drought relief and disaster reduction as the major event, important and emergency matters for the improvement of people’ livelihood, by taking measures of giving equal importance to both flood control and drought relief, transforming from flood control to flood management and from single-purpose drought relief to comprehensive approach of integrating the urban, rural and ecological needs all into consideration, effectively implements structural and non-structural measures and improves capacity building.

· Institutional framework is established. The flood control and drought relief commanding system has been set up at national, river basin and local levels. The General Commander of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters is a vice premier of the State Council. Its members are administrative leaders of governmental departments and the military, who are responsible for organizing and guiding efforts in flood control and drought relief. In counties that undertake flood and drought tasks, flood control and drought relief commanding headquarters are set up as part of the county governments. Over the recent years, effort has been made to build the institutional capacity of river basin in flood control and drought relief, for flood control and drought relief headquarters are set up in six major river basins, namely, the Yangtze River, Yellow River, Huai River, Hai River, Songhua River and Pearl River. The local governments have also set up and improved their respective responsibility systems for flood prevention and draught relief under which the administrative heads assume core responsibilities.

· Structural facilities are improved. We have completed 280,000 km of embankment for flood defense, 860,000 reservoirs, and 97 key flood retention areas. The actual water supply capacity of water supply utilities amounts to 659.1 billion m3, and effective irrigated area extends 57.8 million ha. The construction of projects, namely, strengthening of defective reservoirs, safeguarding drinking water supply in rural areas, continuous construction of supplementary facilities of irrigation districts and rehabilitation for water conservation, have all been accelerated. At present, main river sections of major rivers and lakes are capable of withstanding 100-year-return floods; medium and small rivers are capable of preventing normal floods; flood defense capacity of major sea dykes has risen to the 50-year-return level. When medium level drought occurs, the industrial, agricultural and ecological water consumption will not be affected as water supply in both urban and rural areas are basically secured.

· Emergency plans are developed. The national flood control and drought relief emergency planning system has been set up. All government agencies at and above the country level are requested to make emergency plans. Flood prevention plans and flood regulation plans are developed for major rivers and lakes. Flood control emergency plans and operation plans are worked out for large and medium reservoirs or hydropower stations. The operation and evacuation plans have been developed for flood retention areas. Mountain flood prevention plans are worked out by cities or counties that prone to the disaster. Typhoon prevention plans are also made in the cities and counties that under the threat of typhoon disaster. All provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities), and 4/5 counties and cities have drought relief emergency response plans.

· Flood warning and forecasting is strengthened. There are about 34,000 hydrological or precipitation stations and more than 8,600 flood reporting stations built all over the country. Automatic forecasting and warning systems and flood regulating systems have been developed for large and key medium size reservoirs. Flood warning and forecasting systems are applied in main river sections of major rivers. A preliminary national drought monitoring system is already in place. Timely response to the drought, and early-warning and forecasting as well as close monitoring and supervision of drought conditions has been realized through hydrological and meteorological monitoring.

· Laws and regulations are issued. A series of laws and regulations have been enacted and implemented such as Water Law, Flood Control Law, Flood Control Regulations, Drought Relief Regulations and Temporary Regulations for Compensation of Flood Retention Areas. Supplementary regulations and implementation rules have been issued by local governments in line with national laws and regulations and their specific local conditions. These laws and regulations lay a solid foundation for law-based flood control and drought relief.

· Emergency management is enhanced. Each year, before the flood season, flood control and drought relief headquarters at each level makes emergency plans for prevention of floods and droughts in accordance with their specific conditions. Great attention has been paid to forecasting, warning, regulation, emergency response, disaster relief and post-disaster rehabilitation, so as to minimize losses caused by flood and drought disasters. During the flood season, the flood control and drought relief headquarters strictly execute the 24-hour-on-duty system and the daily consultation system. In case of flooding and drought, emergency response is initiated according to the emergency plan, so as to avoid casualties and minimize economic losses.

Under the effective management of the Chinese Government, China has successfully organized the disaster relief campaign of flood control and drought relief, and won the victory of combating extraordinary flood, severe drought, snowstorms and earthquakes, which safeguarded people’ lives and greatly minimized the losses caused by disasters.

· Flood prevention is strengthened. Relying on improved structural and non-structural flood control systems, extensive participation of the whole society and coordination of governmental departments at all levels, China successfully combated several historical basin-wide floods, and greatly minimized losses caused by flooding. Since 1949, the direct economic benefit obtained from flood control reaches 3.690 trillion Yuan, with 160 million ha of farmland protected from flooding and a yearly average reduction of inundated farmland of 2.71 million ha. Along with improvement of the flood control system, the death toll caused by flood disasters has been reduced dramatically year by year.

· Water supply is secured. Since 1991, 31 million hectare of drought-affected farmland is irrigated annually on average, which saves 39.41 million tons of grain, and enables 24.36 million people and 19.08 million livestock access to drinking water each year. This winter and spring, severe drought once again hit the main wheat-growing areas of China. The Chinese Government initiated grade-I emergency response to the drought timely. Backbone structures like reservoirs are operated according to the emergency plan as the immediate measure for drought relief. For instance, the Xiaolangdi Reservoir released 2.9 billion m3 of water for alleviating drought condition downstream.
· Protection against typhoons is implemented. Each year, 7 typhoons lands in Mainland China on average, and the number may reach 12 in an extreme year. The Chinese Government regards safety of the people as the first priority in the defense against typhoons. Three key steps of “prevention”, ”evacuation” and “relief” are implemented for the objective of “ensuring no death and minimizing injuries”. The result has been impressive. In 2008, 10 typhoons or tropical storms hit China, with unprecedented severity and early landing. Thanks to the excellent arrangements and effective measures of the Chinese Government, 4.15 million people were safely evacuated and 650,000 ships were saved. The losses were minimized with number of deaths reduced by 70%, affected population reduced by 20%, and collapsed buildings down by 60%.

· Ice floods are controlled. Ice floods mainly happen in the Yellow River, Heilongjiang and Songhua River in North China, among which the Yellow River is often seriously affected. In the past decades, ice floods control was successfully implemented in the Yellow River Basin through integrated and scientific regulation, resulting in gradual reduction of losses. In 2007-2008, the Yellow River Basin was hit by the most severe ice floods in the last 40 years. Effective measures were adopted by means of water discharging of the reservoirs in the upper stream, flood diversion by main canals, temporary use of flood detention basins, blow up the iced dams and close monitoring of embankment and dykes. As a result, the affected areas and scope were effectively controlled and no people injured or killed by ice floods.

· Secondary disaster is greatly reduced. Low temperature, snow storms and earthquakes often bring along secondary disasters. For instance, the “May 12” Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008 damaged 2,473 reservoirs and 1,229 km embankment and endangered 822 hydropower stations. Landslides resulted in 105 dammed reservoirs. Our ministry urgently mobilized 1,780 water experts, exploration and design professionals and repair/maintenance workers for the affected areas, allocated construction equipment and materials quickly for emergency usage and carried out on-site inspection of dammed lakes, damaged reservoirs and hydropower stations as well as embankment together with local water authorities. Options for risk removal were prepared and timely emergency response was carried out, which helped to eliminate secondary disasters. No dams or reservoir collapsed; no embankment or dyke broke. In particular no injuries or death were reported during disaster relief of the dammed lakes. This created a marvel in the history of dammed lake removal.      

3.Measures and suggestions for improving flood control and drought relief

Although we have made great achievements through our good hard efforts in flood control and drought relief, it is necessary to enhance our capacity of flood defense and drought relief. While global climatic changes increase the possibility of frequent and sudden occurrence of extreme weather events, fast development of the Chinese economy and society also gives rise to new problems, tasks and challenges in flood control and drought relief. The Chinese Government shall take relevant flood control and drought relief measures that are tailored to the Chinese national conditions. Our future work aims at the following five aspects.

· Further improve the structural system. Emphasis is placed on construction of embankments, reservoirs and flood detention areas and river course training facilities. In order to explore comprehensive benefits, layout of structures and operational methods need to be optimized.

· Further improve the management system. Emergency responses to floods and droughts should be systemized, e.g., establish flood management systems along major rivers and regions, make emergency plans, improve emergency response mechanisms, regulate management activities and strengthen coordination.

· Reinforce the security system. Responsibilities and tasks of flood defense of governmental departments at all levels should be specified, while civilian and military efforts should be combined to relieve disasters with public participation.

· Enhance the legal framework. The rights and interests of all parties should be coordinated. Socioeconomic development activities should be regulated in accordance with law. Emergency disaster relief, flood regulation, disaster relief and economic compensation should follow the path of “rule by law”.

· Build up a scientific/high-tech supporting system. Scientific and efficient flood control and drought relief supporting systems should be set up by means of extending applicable and advanced flood control and drought relief technologies, and modernizing flood control and drought relief undertakings.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Protection of extraordinary natural disasters and promoting risk management of water structures needs further cooperation of international communities and energetic actions to address the emerging problems and difficulties. Hereby, I would like to propose three suggestions:

1.Develop a platform for international exchange of data on disaster mitigation, carry out evaluation and summary of data of extraordinary natural disasters worldwide by taking the advantage of data network created by UN organizations and other relevant international organizations, so as to benefit data sharing among countries and regions on disaster prevention and mitigation; to build a multi-layer, all-angle and multi-field information exchange mechanism for disaster prevention and mitigation, and taking the advantage of functions of government agencies, scientific institutions and non-governmental organizations.

2.Promote technical cooperation by establishing effective international technical cooperation mechanism, eliminating barriers and obstacles that hamper the international cooperation, encouraging research and development, application and transfer of technologies in terms of climate change, extraordinary flood and risk management of water structures; strengthening international technical cooperation in the aspects of monitoring of climate changes and flood and drought disasters, especially the technologies of manufacturing advanced monitoring equipment and applicable technologies of satellite remote-sensing data in disaster monitoring and evaluation and simulation technology of climate change and finally enhancement of capacity of each country in mastering real-time disaster conditions, fast decision-making and post-disaster appraisal.

3.Give support to the developing countries. Occurrence frequencies, casualties and damages of natural disasters of developing countries usually far exceeding developed nations. It is more difficult for developing countries in post-disaster rehabilitation. Given the fact that there exist significant gap in disaster prevention and disaster reduction, the developed countries should give assistance and help to the developing countries in technical transfer, capacity building, financial and equipment support so as to increase the ability of developing countries in combating natural disasters and reducing human and property losses.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The 21st Century is an era of both opportunities and challenges. China is willing to join hand with other countries and the international community to share the technologies and experiences of disaster prevention and mitigation, and meet the challenges brought along by extraordinary natural disasters side by side. At the same time, we sincerely hope that this special session will contribute to global cooperation in disaster mitigation and to prosperity and development of the world.