June 8, Fatal floods have hit southern China since last Friday after a prolonged drought, putting those drought-stricken regions through more extreme conditions and throwing the spotlight on China’s unsolved water conservation projects.
The middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River are vulnerable to subtle changes in weather and it is mainly related to a year-long unsolved lag in the development of water conservation projects in rural areas, unnamed experts told China Business News.
Nearly half of the 85,000 reservoirs nationwide are rated as risky, while about one-third of all counties and villages lack qualified water supply equipment.
Many facilities have lacked maintenance since China implemented the household contract responsibility reform in the 1980s.
Drought Shifts to Flood
China’s central Jiangxi province has experienced rain since June 2 and welcomed its heaviest downpours this year on June 4 and June 5, according to the Jiangxi Provincial Water Resources Department.
The sudden turn over the weekend has trigged floods and landslides in the northern part of the province. In Yichun alone, as of 14:00 June 6, the rain has affected 29,500 people, resulted in emergency transfer of 1,137 residents and led to losses of RMB 94 million.
The Guizhou provincial civil affairs bureau said rain-triggered floods have so far hit 14 cities and counties across the province, affecting at least 400,000 people.
In Hunan Province, torrential rains have caused floods and landslides, damaging crops and forcing the shutdown of a major state road that won’t be reopened until Thursday.
Prior to that, parts of China along the Yangtze River basin and nearby areas had endured their worst drought in 50 years or more, with rainfall 40%-60% less than normal over recent months, damaging crops and cutting power generated from hydroelectric dams.
The sudden turn from drought to floods exposed poor management and insufficient construction of rural water conservation facilities, which constitutes a weak basis for combating drought and preventing water logging.
In the 30 years before China started the household contract responsibility reform, China accumulatively invested RMB 76.3 billion in rural water conservation with another RMB 58 billion of local self-raised funds and investment of labor, according to data from the Ministry of Water Resources.
Since the 1980s, however, China has stopped the large-scale building of rural water conservation projects and maintenance in some regions has been exempted.
In a southern county, 61.2% of its 200 reservoirs were at risk, while over 90% of its 56,000 village ponds were in poor condition with water storage capacity of less than 60%, said Zhu Jianjun, a professor at Central South University.
Heavy rain of 50 millimeters would easily wash off hundreds of irrigation ditches in the county, he added.
Absence of New Mechanism
In the 1960s and 1970s, the labor force in a village was organized to build and fix water conservation facilities during the slack season. But after the household contract responsibility reform, no one cares about those public works.
Since 2003, China has been reforming rural taxes and administrative charges, which has led to the cancellation of public accumulation funds related to water conservation and labor accumulation and volunteer work systems.
The reform has eased rural residents’ burdens, but also “added pressure” to local infrastructural construction, said Wu Jun, chief of Bianhe, Jianli county, Hubei.
“Town cadres no longer organize farmers to do volunteer work on public facilities because they would be criticized. Cancelation of taxes and administration fees makes financing for public facilities hard for some villages without industrial support and many watering facilities are left without management,” Wu said.
The labor accumulation and volunteer work systems had played a significant contributing role in rural infrastructural construction and facility maintenance, said Zheng Fengtian, Vice-Dean of School of Agri. Economics and Rural Development, Renmin University of China.
A new input system has not been set up after the elimination of the systems of labor accumulation and volunteer work, and the amount of labor input on rural water conservation projects has been declining.
In 1998, labor input on rural water conservation projects reached over 10 billion working days but that dropped by 70% in 2005, with the completion of earthwork down 59% and newly added improved irrigated areas down 35%, Zheng said.
Zhu also stressed investment in rural projects is a small part of the country’s total investment in water conservation projects. In the period from 1980 to 2008, investment in rural facilities accounted for an average of 6% of the basic construction of nationwide water conservation projects.
edited by Tony ZHU