The diversion of flood waters in China into populated areas unleashes a wave of anger online

The diversion of flood waters in China into populated areas unleashes a wave of anger online

Written by David Kirton and Ryan Wu

BEIJING (Reuters) – Nearly a million people in north China’s Hebei province were evacuated after record rains forced authorities to funnel water from swollen rivers to some populated areas for storage, sparking an online outcry about homes sacrificed to save Beijing.

The vast Hai River basin covers an area the size of Poland, including Hebei, Beijing and Tianjin. Over a single week from late July, the region of 110 million people experienced the most severe flooding in six decades, with Hebei, particularly Baoding County, the hardest hit.

According to flood control laws, when a basin-level flood causes reservoirs, which are the first line of defense, to exceed their limits, the water may be temporarily directed into so-called “flood storage areas”—including populated lowlands.

On July 31, Hebei Province opened seven out of 13 zones designated for flood storage, including two in Zhuozhou City in Baoding, south of Beijing and north of Xiongan. District chief Xi Jinping aims to develop it into an economic powerhouse serving Hebei, Beijing and Tianjin.

On August 1, Hebei Communist Party Secretary Ni Yufeng called Xiong’an a top priority in the province’s flood prevention work, according to local state media.

Visiting the flood storage areas in Baoding, Ni added that it is necessary to reduce the pressure on flood control in Beijing and create a “moat” for the Chinese capital.

“Beijing must foot the bill,” a netizen wrote on the popular Chinese blog Weibo.

In other posts on Zhuozhou, netizens said that residents were unaware that they lived in a flood storage area and minority rights were sacrificed.

“I would like to know, of all the people who live in flood storage areas across the country, how many of them know they live in such areas?” asked an angry netizen.

Phone calls to the Hebei provincial government on Sunday seeking comment were not answered. Did not immediately respond to an email.

The Baoding government said on Saturday that record rains in Baoding had caused 67 of its 83 small reservoirs to overflow and the water in all of its 10 large reservoirs to dangerous levels.


“When the flood is too large and exceeds the defensive capacity of the bridge, it becomes an inevitable need for flood control to use flood storage areas,” the official China Water Resources News said in a Weibo post on August 1.

“This is also in order to protect the general situation. You have to sacrifice one part for the greater whole.”

As of 8:00 a.m. (0000 GMT) on Friday, Hebei Province had moved more than 1.54 million people, including 961,200 from flood storage areas, state media reported on Saturday.

A department at the Ministry of Water Resources said residents of the torrential storage areas had “abandoned their homes to protect everyone,” and would be compensated according to the law.

On Saturday, authorities in Bazhou City, in another part of Hebei Province, expressed their “sincere thanks” to residents for following orders and evacuating their homes early.

They said a review of compensation for damaged agricultural production and housing will be conducted when the flood recedes.

But not all citizens seemed convinced.

A video reposted by X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, appeared on Saturday of citizens holding up a banner outside the entrance of the Pazhou municipal office that read: “Taking my house is the obvious goal of floodwater drainage, but you said it all because of the rain.”

Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

“A small part of the community is still big, and their sacrifices are profound,” said a netizen on Weibo.

(Reporting by David Kirton and Ryan Wu; Additional reporting from the Shanghai and Beijing newsrooms; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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