Caixin
Nov 10, 2021 09:33 PM
CHINA

Extreme Weather Poses Growing Health Risks in China, New Study Shows

Houses are flooded in Chongqing's Ciqikou old town on Sept. 7, 2021. Photo: VCG
Houses are flooded in Chongqing's Ciqikou old town on Sept. 7, 2021. Photo: VCG

The risks to health posed by flood events are rising in China, a new report by Chinese researchers suggests, noting that the country could become among the most affected by extreme weather conditions if adequate actions are not taken.

The report, published Sunday in the British medical journal, The Lancet Public Health, says climate-related health threats are worsening in the most populous country. It notes that the frequency and intensity of flood events in China continue to increase, and though the country’s improved emergency response capacity has reduced the number of people affected by such weather conditions, the extreme floods last year and this year “have the potential to reverse this progress.”

Apart from the devastating flooding, the report also highlights worrying trends of deadly heatwaves, drought and wildfire disasters in several regions.

“The health impacts of climate change continue to worsen in every province in China and there is mixed progress in the adaptation and mitigation responses,” the report said.

Titled “The 2021 China Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: Seizing the Window of Opportunity,” the report is compiled by Tsinghua University, with contributions from 88 experts from 25 leading institutions in and outside of China, and released by the Lancet Countdown Regional Centre in Asia.

China is revising its extreme weather contingency plans after devastating flooding earlier this year exposed problems in provincial response systems, a deputy emergency management minster said Monday.

The country aims to solve problems exposed by the response to torrential rains and deadly flooding that killed more than 300 people in Central China’s Henan province in July, including early warning systems. The meteorological bureau in Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan, said the downpours were the heaviest on an hourly and daily basis since records began in the city in 1951, and said the city had seen “once in a millennium” rainfall.

The Lancet report says that the number of flood disasters “increased substantially” during the past two decades, while overall the damage caused by floods and droughts decreased between 2004 and 2018 “due to improvements in emergency response capacity.”

However, increased frequency of extreme precipitation and flooding, such as the one along the Yangtze River last year that affected 27 provincial-level regions and in earlier this year Henan, one of the country’s most populous provinces, “has the potential to reverse this downward trend in flood damage,” the report said.

“Without actions taken, China could become the country most impacted by floods in the world,” the report said.

Cai Wenjia, the report’s lead author and associate professor at Tsinghua University’s Department of Earth System Science, noted recent increases in the number of casualties from floods in the country.

In 2018, the number of casualties caused by flood disasters across the country were 380, while as of October, floods in Henan, Shanxi provinces and other regions killed 416 people this year, she noted.

“Climate change is a long-term, slow, gradual process, and indicators often fluctuate, but in the long term, there is a clear trend of rising climate risks,” she said.

The report also shows an increase in the average number of heatwave days and related casualties. Compared with 2000–04, heatwave-related mortality increased by 63.6% to an annual average of 17,270 deaths in 2015–20.

The report says China has made mixed progress in response to climate change, noting “the absence of a stand-alone national health adaptation plan” and “the absence of assessment and adaptation planning process in the majority of provinces.”

The experts have put forward several proposals in the report, with suggestions including strengthening multidepartmental cooperation and additional assessments of health impacts of climate change.

“With several key health and climate decisions being developed, the country has a unique opportunity to increase its leadership in committing to global climate mitigation actions that benefit and protect health,” the report said.

“After the painful lessons from COVID-19, this important opportunity to protect the health of people in China, both now and in the future, cannot be missed,” it said.

Contact reporter Cai Xuejiao (xuejiaocai@caixin.com) and editor Zhenhua Lu (luzhenhua@caixin.com)

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