Cities Drown in Summer Rains

Six out of 10 cities in China are found to be susceptible to floods.
Email story
Comment on this story
Print story
Pedestrians are stranded on a flyover after rainstorms flood a large part of Beijing, June 23, 2011.
Pedestrians are stranded on a flyover after rainstorms flood a large part of Beijing, June 23, 2011.

China's rapidly growing cities are increasingly vulnerable to fatal flash floods in streets and underpasses as mushrooming construction projects fail to plan for storm drainage.

Recent figures show that 62 percent of China's cities are vulnerable to flash floods as rapidly developed urban areas lack the drainage capacity to handle severe rainstorms.

Videos posted by netizens during recent summer rainstorms in Beijing and the central city of Wuhan show wide boulevards under several feet of water, with taxis, cars, buses, and bicycles found swamped or abandoned.

Such scenes are associated elsewhere in the world with flooding from rivers and lakes, but in China, huge volumes of water fall from the sky during summer rainstorms and collect in urban environments.

Beijing-based lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said the problem lies with city planners who focused on traffic capacity, rather than the bigger picture.

"All the cities are mostly concerned with how wide the roads are, or with how pretty the streets look," Liu said.

"They probably haven't given much thought to a single big rainstorm and how to enable the water to drain away fast."

The lack of storm drainage means the water transforms highly developed cityscapes into lakes, rivers, and waterfalls overnight.


Netizens have posted countless photos of urban landmarks like the Shanghai Metro submerged in water, of people fishing in Nanjing's central business district, and of Wuhan buses "turning into boats."

Nanchang-based netizen Zhang Xiaoquan tweeted on the popular Sina microblogging platform: "Several days of rains in Nanchang have saturated the city, whose two billion yuan [U.S.$ 313 million] drainage system upgrade hasn't been able to cope."

"Boats now ply its bustling streets, and it's possible to fish in them. It looks like the city's recent promotional slogan for itself as the 'Water capital of China' is becoming a reality," Zhang wrote.

But while many take the opportunity to go swimming or fish in their cities' temporary pools and lakes, such sudden urban flooding can have fatal consequences.

In one widely reported story, two people drowned in a taxi that was caught in a flooded underpass in Wuhan during the 2009 summer rains.

News reports at the time said the depth of the water in the underpass reached 1.58 meters (5.18 feet).

No oversight

Online videos have also shown passengers bailing out of drowned buses and pedicabs before they are swamped themselves during this year's rainstorms across China in June.

Liu blamed a lack of public supervision of government infrastructure spending. "They have invested a lot of money, but there is no oversight in the system," he said.

Shenzhen-based writer Zhu Jianguo said governments around the country aren't focused enough on quality of life, preferring instead to build large-scale prestige projects.

"After the rains ended in Wuhan, the municipal government immediately announced plans to build a 606-meter (1,988-foot) skyscraper, the third tallest in the world," Zhu said.

"Wuhan has been flooded several times this year by huge rainstorms, but the government seems not to have learned a lesson from this," he added.

He said governments would prefer that projects they invest in were highly visible.

"They build bridges, when it would be of more benefit to improve the drainage system," Zhu said.

"If you build drains, not everyone will see it, and particularly your superiors won't be able to see it," he said.

"But if you build a bridge, everyone can see it."

Reported by Tang Qiwei for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





More Listening Options

Promo Box target not set

Promo Box target not set

View Full Site