China’s summer this year has seen both extreme heat and devastating floods.
And the flooding this time around has struck areas where such weather has been unheard of, with scientists – blaming climate change – warning that the worst is yet to come.
“I’ve never seen a flood here in my whole life,” says 38-year-old Zhang Junhua, standing next to a vast patch of rice, now completely useless. “We just didn’t expect it.”
His family and friends are safe, he says, because they were given plenty of warning to get to higher ground, but everyone in his village now has some tough months ahead.
What’s more, the devastation in north-east China’s Heilongjiang Province has had a major impact on food supplies for the whole country. This month, 40 per cent of the area’s famous Wuchang rice crop has been wiped out, visibly flattened by the volume and speed of the water. Places which should appear lush and green are today brown and dead.
“The fields where we planted our crops were all submerged. We can’t plant again this year,” says another farmer, Zhao Lijuan, as she smiles and tries to be philosophical about the impact on her community.
“The losses are incalculable. We have tens of thousands of acres of rice fields here,” the 56-year-old says, adding: “When I saw the water come here, I cried. It laid waste to everything and I am scared the typhoons will be back.”
At least 81 people have been killed in the recent floods, including some trying to rescue others.
But the economic pain has been much wider, in a country already struggling to recover following three years of strict coronavirus control measures.
And, if the government wants to measure the immediate cost of not addressing climate change urgently, it need look no further than its own statistics.
In a little over a decade, the number of floods being recorded in the country has increased tenfold.
In the summer of 2011, there were six to eight monthly floods listed in China. Last year, more than 130 were recorded in July and 82 in August.
According to Dr Zhao Li from Greenpeace East Asia, the increase in flood numbers can be partially explained by China developing better systems to monitor and record flood data. But she says global warming is still clearly a major contributing factor.
“Warmer temperatures can enhance evaporation rates, resulting in more moisture in the atmosphere,” she says. “This increased moisture content can lead to more intense rainfall and more frequent and severe storms, including hurricanes and cyclones.” (BBC)