China Extreme Weather Event

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Typhoon Nepartak—A Category 5 Super Typhoon

From mid-June through July of 2016, China endured a series of extreme precipitation events, including the tail-end of Typhoon Nepartak—a Category 5 super typhoon—that triggered deadly floods across twenty-six of the nation’s provinces. Official reports published on July 26, 2016 claim that the series of disasters led to a total of 833 deaths, 270 people missing, and a total of 6.24 million residents displaced. The floods have been marked as the world’s second deadliest weather-related event of 2016 and damages, amounting to $22 billion, have been estimated to be the world’s fifth most expensive weather-related natural disaster on record outside of the US.

The climatic severity of these precipitation events and floods was caused by a multitude of factors including, the combination of El Niño and higher levels of atmospheric water vapor caused by global warming. In addition, urbanization and land use changes in cities have led to the enormous demand for housing and the drainage of lakes for further development. This has severely affected the natural drainage system, causing water logging and flooding in the inner city areas.

Although, these factors have drastically influenced the severity of the weather disasters experienced in 2016, China understands that it will continue to see more frequent flooding as Asia’s monsoon system changes as a result of climate change. Adaptation and mitigation to these changes are critical to reducing the vulnerability of those most at risk from precipitation events and flooding.

In the past, the Chinese government focused on environmental restoration, such as (a) afforestation of steep farmlands, (b) restoration of floodplains by removing embankments, (c) resettling farmers in at-risk areas by building new townships; and (d) strengthening river levees and dredging riverbeds. These strategies have not been enough to protect poor farmers and communities—the most vulnerable to flooding. In the early days of August 2016, President Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of early warning systems in flood-prone areas as well as the need for sustainable mitigation strategies focused on engineering solutions. The government is now conducting ‘sponge’ city pilots in 16 major urban centers, including Beijing and Shanghai, where drainage systems will be retrofitted for improved flood control and water conservation. Training of response and rescue personnel and improved access to villages are also required to reach those in risk situations. Community management, particularly by farmers, has been developed to aid flood control, gain greater resilience, and minimize losses.

The increased frequency, severity and unpredictability of weather events caused by climate change are a real threat to China’s population and economy—a fact that  will challenge the nation and keep pushing them to develop bold, new mitigation strategies that will create greater resilience in the face of greater risks.

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