After record monsoon rains caused authorities to reroute water from swollen rivers to some populated regions for storage, nearly 1 million residents in China’s northern Hebei province were moved, provoking outrage online over the homes sacrificed to rescue Beijing.
The huge Hai River basin, the size of Poland, comprises Hebei, Beijing, and Tianjin. Over a one-week period beginning in late July, the region with a population of 110 million witnessed its worst floods in six decades, with Hebei, notably Baoding prefecture, bearing the brunt of the damage.
When basin-wide flooding forces reservoirs, the first line of defence, to exceed their capacity, water may be temporarily diverted to so-called “flood storage areas,” which include low-lying populated territory, according to flood management legislation.
On July 31, Hebei province opened seven of its thirteen authorised flood storage zones, including two in Zhuozhou, Baoding, south of Beijing and north of Xiongan, a zone President Xi Jinping hopes to develop into an industrial powerhouse servicing Hebei, Beijing, and Tianjin.
According to Reuters, Hebei’s Communist Party Secretary Ni Yuefeng declared Xiongan a top priority for the province’s flood control efforts on August 1.
During his visit to flood storage grounds in Baoding, Ni stated that it was critical to relieve strain on Beijing’s flood management and to build a “moat” around the Chinese capital. “Beijing should foot the bill,” a netizen on the popular Chinese microblogging site Weibo tweeted.
In other posts on Zhuozhou, netizens claimed that locals were unaware they were in a flood storage area and that minority rights had been violated.
“I’d like to know, among all the people living in flood storage areas across the country, how many of them are aware that they are living in such areas?” one irate netizen said.
On Sunday, inquiries to the Hebei province government requesting response went unanswered. It did not react to an email right away.
Record-breaking rains in Baoding caused 67 of the city’s 83 small reservoirs to overflow, and water levels in all of the city’s ten main reservoirs to rise to unsafe levels, according to the Baoding administration on Saturday.
“When the flood is too large and exceeds the embankment’s defence capacity, it becomes an unavoidable need for flood control to use flood storage areas,” the official China Water Resources News stated on Weibo on August 1.
“This is also for the sake of protecting the overall situation.” You must make a sacrifice for the benefit of the larger whole.”
According to official media, as of 8:00 a.m. (0000 GMT) on Friday, Hebei had relocated more than 1.54 million people, including 961,200 from flood storage zones.
Residents in flood storage zones “have given up their homes to protect everyone” and will be compensated in accordance with the law, according to a Ministry of Water Resources department.
On Saturday, authorities in Bazhou, Hebei, expressed “heartfelt gratitude” to locals for following orders and vacating their homes ahead of time.
When the floodwaters recede, they will perform a compensation review for damaged agricultural production and residences.
However, not all citizens appeared persuaded.
On Saturday, a video shared on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, appeared to show locals unfurling a banner before the door to the Bazhou municipal office that read, “Taking my home is the clear aim of the flood water discharge, but you said it’s all because of the rain.”
A netizen remarked on Weibo that “one small part of society is still big, and their sacrifice has been profound.”
During the summer months, China is prone to monsoon rains and seasonal flooding, particularly in the south and east. The Asian monsoon system sends considerable rainfall to these areas, raising river levels and potentially inundating low-lying areas.
Monsoon flooding has traditionally had serious economic and humanitarian consequences in China, impacting agriculture, infrastructure, and human settlements. Authorities in China have undertaken a variety of flood-control measures, including the construction of dams, levees, and reservoirs.