Beijing government flooded by criticism

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-7-23 20:40:03

Editor's Note:

Beijing was hit by the heaviest rain in 61 years on Saturday, killing 37 people so far in the resulting floods. The Chinese Internet was rapidly overrun with criticisms of poor drainage and the local government's failure to take precautionary measures. What lessons can we learn from the disaster? What steps should the government take? Two experts shared their views with the Global Times. 

 Capital struggles to balance budget for drainage crisis fix

In broad term, the Beijing municipal government is placing increasing emphasis on the city's ability to cope with such natural disasters as floods and earthquakes. But the Saturday rainstorm does offer an opportunity to reflect on what more needs to be done on this regard.

Flood prevention and mitigation in any city largely depend on its drainage system. However, drainage systems in many aging districts of Beijing do not have the same criteria in meeting demands to cope with heavy rainfall and subsequent floods.

It is now necessary for the government to conduct a full and comprehensive review of the system in Beijing and issue a report so the public can have a better knowledge of the city's abilities at flood prevention and mitigation.

The government and the public both want to immediately and massively improve Beijing's ability to cope with such floods. To achieve the goal needs a complete revamp of the city's drainage system.

But such a plan is unlikely to be carried out in the short term because it would surely demand a huge budget from the Beijing government, which has already now committed huge amounts of money to dealing with other pressing issues, including transportation and affordable housing.

That said, however, there is still much work that can be done to alleviate the damage done by rainstorms in the future. The government can start its work by focusing the limited resources available on specific issues.

For example, I noted that during the rainstorm, the places that were most easily inundated by water were low-lying areas in bypasses. One reason is that the power of the pumps used there is relatively small and unable to cope with heavy rain.

The government can also make its work in early warning and crisis management of natural disasters more transparent and step up publicity efforts. For example, when the government issued the blue and yellow rainstorm alert on Saturday, I didn't know of the possible danger and what I should and should not do.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Wang Zhaokun based upon an interview with Dong Liming, a professor at the College of Urban and Environmental Sciences of Peking University.

Skyscrapers offer no sure refuge for flood-struck city

By Wen Rou

On this terrible Saturday, the actions of residents and grass-roots civil servants in Beijing were truly remarkable. Generous restaurant and hotel owners opened their arms to people who were struck by the terrible weather. Volunteers from various NGOs helped driving rain-trapped residents home. And a district police chief lost his life when saving people from the floods. These deeds have touched the hearts of Beijingers.

But individual heroism doesn't compensate for the damage caused by poor planning. Although the government had reportedly been preparing for a plan for the storm a week before it hit Beijing, many residents received no warning, no details of safety measures, and no cautionary advice about danger zones. Even when the rain hit, there were no broadcasts about which parts of the city should be avoided.

The losses wouldn't be this high if people had been better informed and told to prepare for the worst. Take the man who drowned under a bridge near Guangqumen. If he'd known that area's propensity for flooding he would surely have taken a safer route.

What's even more unacceptable is that this is not the first time Beijing's incompetence in dealing with heavy rainfall has made headline. About eight years ago, when the city was making initial preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games, an unusually strong storm humiliated Beijing in front of the world. Yet nothing has changed since then.

Beijing generally experiences less rainfall than the southern cities. This may be why the upgrading of drainage systems has been ignored. However, as global warming starts to change weather patterns, Beijing will increasingly find itself struck by metrological disaster. Skyscrapers can't bail the city out from the devastation of bad weather.

The city planners must reflect on this tragedy instead of blaming the weather. People should also be held responsible for the loss of lives and properties. It is not that the public has a grudge against the government, but only through taking serious measures will the government show it is treating the public's complaints seriously and beginning reform before another tragedy strikes.

The author is a freelance writer based in Beijing.


The Beijing Meteorology Bureau argued that it had technical difficulties in informing residents about upcoming bad weathers via text messages. However, telecommunication providers insisted that it had nothing to do with technology and said that the bureau didn't attempt to cooperate with them in providing such services. According to regulations on disaster forecasting, the meteorological authorities are responsible for warning society about impending disasters using every available communication technology. But who is really responsible?


According to official announcement, 37 people have been confirmed dead after the storm. Why is there still no official statement to address the deceased? When Taiwan was hit by a strong storm in 2009, the leader Ma Ying-jeou called for officials to donate their salaries to help people recover from the disaster. The Beijing authorities often talk about the so-called Beijing spirit, which includes concepts such as inclusiveness and virtue. The public have done well-enough in honoring this spirit, but where's the officials and government's role in promoting it?

Why can we organize one of the most spectacular Olympic Games in the world, but just cannot build a decent storm drainage system? Why do we have to use blood and tears to warn us of our carelessness and failure rather than actively making changes before tragedy hits? This is probably because we only see those who lost their lives as merely a string of numbers. But if we can learn to respect each individual's life, such incidents will be greatly reduced.

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