Torrential rain and floodwater threaten to breach the Three Gorges Dam, causing an ecological and human disaster in China.
Up to four million residents have been forced to flee their homes with more than 200 dead, the Ministry of Emergency Management in Beijing has reported.
The worst affected regions include Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan, Hubei and Chongqing. At least 443 rivers nationwide have swelled to their highest levels in history, according to the Ministry of Water Resources.
“As if 2020 has not been sufficiently crisis-laden for the People’s Republic of China [in regard to the Covid-19 crisis], it now faces the potential for major catastrophe due to massive rains,” Dean Cheng, a China policy expert from the Asian Studies Center at the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, said.
“These concerns were not allayed when the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that there had been “displacement, seepage, and deformation” (translated from “weiyí, shenliu, bianxíng”) in the dam structure. Although these threat indicators are reportedly within normal parameters, there is still fear that the dam will collapse,” he wrote in a commentary for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington.
Earlier this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping toured parts of the flooded areas to illustrate how serious the crisis has become.
This entire situation pales should the Three Gorges Dam fail. This is a scary but not impossible scenario.Dean Cheng, a China policy expert from the Asian Studies Center at the Davis Institute
Apart from the tragic human cost, more than US$26 billion has been washed away amid the economic destruction caused by the flooding.
“During the fight, we should respect nature, conform to the laws of nature and live in harmony with nature,” Xi told a media briefing as reported by the state-owned China Daily newspaper.
Still, water levels continue to rise at the Three Gorges mega-dam, a major hydroelectric facility designed in part to contain floods on the Yangtze River.
At one point, a record 72,000 cubic meters (2.5 million cubic feet) per second flowed into it, the Ministry of Water Resources confirmed.
Concerns have also been growing in the past three weeks that the dam could face structural damage.
“This entire situation pales should the Three Gorges Dam fail. This is a scary but not impossible scenario,” Cheng, of the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, said.
“Should the dam fail, a massive torrent of water would sweep down the Yangtze,” he added.
If that happened, the fallout would be catastrophic.