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Beijing Floods: Freak Storm Or Slipshod Urban Planning

To some it was an unanticipated natural disaster, but other citizens and experts claim that flood damage reveals bad planning.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 7/24/2012, 4:08 AM

Highway or waterway
Highway or waterway
Reuters

In the world's two strongest authoritarian states, the climate has proven more effective than the opposition in stirring dissent.

The floods in southern Russia led to the arrest of 3 local officials and a great deal of resentment against the failings of officialdom. Now the urban flooding in Beijing, that as of last count killed 37 and led to the collapse of buildings, has become the topic of public discussion.

Those who would excuse the government, claim that the heaviest rain since records began to be kept in 1951 could not have been anticipated or counteracted.

Many Chinese disagreed with this excuse and took to the Internet to complain about a poor drainage system, a failure to warn people and simply over the fact that the nation's capital had been brought to its knees by a huge rainstorm. While the acts of solidarity and heroism were a silver lining, they could not obscure the fact that the system had failed.

Even some of the state media were appalled. China Central Television commented that the country dodged a bullet because the rains came on Saturday and had they occurred during a regular work day, the casualties could have been higher. Global Times, the English language version of the official People's Daily, commented that Chinese cities "are apparently unpracticed in facing disasters." The paper also extrapolated that if in showcase Beijing, the infrastructure had failed so badly, one could readily assume that the situation in other cities was far worse.

The floods also revived the old criticism that in China's headlong rush to grow, industrialize and urbanize, certain basics-  such as efficient drainage systems -  fell by the wayside.

The official news agency Xinhua made the rounds of experts and discovered that half of the drainage network in Beijing is clogged with sediment. Another criticism was that the massive construction of high-rise buildings with their accompanying parking lots has resulted in a city covered with concrete and asphalt, meaning that the absorption of water into the ground has been eliminated.

The government had simply not taken population growth, water usage and sewage treatment into account.

China's ruling elites were not on hand to witness the flood damage. In this year of our power transition, a large share of the elite was hobnobbing in resorts away from the capital.