Floods on China's largest river, the Yangtze River, have arrived a month earlier than normal, because of continuous rainfall over the past month in the middle and lower reaches of the river.
On Sunday, water levels in the Yangtze River reached 25.1 meters in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province. Topping the "danger level", this is the highest the river has been since records began.
Such a dangerous height has only been recorded once before, in 1998, and one month later in June, when the disastrous flood claimed thousands of lives and inundated 240,000 square km of fertile farmland in this major grain production center of China. Economic losses in the river basin during the two months of summer flooding amounted to 200 billion yuan.
This year, Wuhan, which is the most important industrial center in China's central region, received rainfall in April that equaled twice the amount of rain in a normal year.
Meanwhile, provinces along the Yangtze River, such as Jiangsu and Guangdong, have begun keeping a 24-hour watch to prevent flood disasters, since water topped their respective "danger levels."
Water levels in the 1,548-km-long Dongting Lake along the river have also risen higher than the "danger level. "
The Yangtze River area has been in a state of flood alert since the beginning of this year.
Meteorologists and lawmakers attending the Fifth Session of the Ninth National People's Congress in March called for flood prevention measures on the Yangtze in summer.
They warned that last year's warm winter, the longest in recent years, signaled the recurrence of El Nino, the weather pattern usually accompanied by serious droughts and floods in China.
The last El Nino which affected China in 1997 proved this. It brought prolonged droughts and high temperatures in north China in 1998 and catastrophic floods in the southern region.
The warning has galvanized many provinces and cities into taking early flood precautions.
Meanwhile, after the 1998 flood, the Chinese government has invested more than 50 billion yuan (US$6.02 billion) in building flood controls along the Yangtze. Of that amount, 28.2 billion yuan was used to reinforce dykes along the middle and lower reaches.
Major dykes on the Yangtze now can withstand floods of a severity seen only once every 100 years. Ecological projects along the Yangtze which widen its flood capacity by letting reclaimed farmland revert to lakes and rivers, will also begin paying off this year.
(Xinhua News Agency May 20, 2002)