Rapidly melting glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau could cause a major flood on the Yangtze River this summer, says Cai Qihua, director of Yangtze River Water Resources Committee.
"We should be vigilant for a comparatively big flood on the Yangtze," said Cai, emphasizing that meteorological conditions are similar to those of 1998 when a major flood killed more than 1,000 people.
With plenty of snow on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, higher than normal temperatures could lead to rapid melting and run off, said Cai.
Meanwhile, water levels have remained low along the entire mainstream of the Yangtze and its tributaries since last winter and many areas in the Yangtze River Valley are suffering drought.
"No serious floods have occurred on the Yangtze since 1998, so it is quite possible for a major one on the river according the natural cycle," said Cai.
She also noted that the damage that might be caused by rainstorms and possible floods and other natural disasters in the Yangtze River Valley should not be underestimated.
Cai warns that some banks of the river in Hubei and Hunan Provinces could be at risk of collapse.
The Three Gorges Dam Project, believed to be the world's largest water control facility, isn't scheduled to become fully operational until 2008. It is designed to help minimize damage caused by floods that might occur only once every 1,000 years.
This year the dam's ability to regulate flood waters will be limited, Cai insisted.
"The project can ensure the safety of major cities downstream only after it can story water up to the 175 meter mark," said Cai.
According to Cai, 28,000 more residents will have to be relocated before the reservoir's water can be allowed to rise to 175 meters.
Deadly floods are a frequent occurrences along the Yangtze
River. The flood in 1998 caused approximately 100 billion yuan (about 13 billion U.S. dollars) in economic loss.