Unprecedented flooding reveals Beijing's drainage, management woes

10:29, June 25, 2011      

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Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing is a popular tourist destination, but it has never been known as an attraction with water views.

That changed on Thursday afternoon, when a massive downpour hit the city and flooded its roads, courtyards and sidewalks, halting transportation and soaking many Beijingers to the bone.

The Chinese capital and its 20 million residents had to deal with paralyzed traffic, subway line closures and other inconveniences as the rain caused many areas of the city to become flooded, which was rarely experienced in decades.

The downpours caused several overpasses and major roads to become flooded, completely halting traffic in some parts of the city. The city's three subway lines were temporarily closed due to flooding in some stations. Seventy-six bus routes were also affected by the flooding.

"It was quite an adventure to walk out of the subway station against the flow of the water pouring down the stairs," recalled a 40-year-old Beijing woman surnamed Li.

Netizens have taken to the web to complain about the rainfall, stating that Beijing's city managers should have been "alert and quick" in responding to the flooding.

Beijing has not been the only city to be tested by torrential rains. Other major cities, such as Wuhan and Hangzhou, have also been battered by heavy rains in recent days. These cities faced similar problems after floods rocked their streets.

It seems that despite their booming economies and gleaming skyscrapers, China's cities are not entirely prepared to face the test of natural calamities such as heavy rains and unpredicted snowfalls.

Wang Yi, the chief engineer of the city's flood control and drought relief headquarters, said Beijing's outdated drainage system had caused the flooding on Thursday, but it was not the only cause.

With their surging populations and increasingly complex layouts, the nation's larger cities have encountered a variety of problems in dealing with emergent natural disasters, said Yang Hongshan, deputy director with the urban planning and management department of the School of Public Administration of Renmin University.

Yang believes that the havoc wreaked by the flooding was the result of the inaccurate judgment of preexisting weather data and poor communication.

"The city's 'nerve system' is not sensitive enough, and the measures put into place (to deal with natural disasters) are not proper," he said.

Some experts said that these incidents have exposed flaws in public transportation and municipal facility management in China's urban megacenters, adding that public management has appeared passive in many cases.

Some of the problems may also be chalked up to an eagerness to rigidly conform to prearranged disaster plans, which is not always suitable in light of the unpredictable nature of these types of emergencies, said Zhu Lijia, a professor with the National School of Administration.

"Planning is not the solution. Dealing with emergencies requires wisdom and flexibility, not just falling in line with a prearranged plan," Zhu said.

In fact, Beijing is considered to be relatively strong in comparison to other Chinese cities, in terms of emergency response and public management. The city released emergency alerts during the rainstorm, dispatched thousands of policemen to handle traffic and quickly began to drain and repair its flooded subways.

Mao Qizhi, a professor at the urban planning department of the School of Architecture of Beijing's Tsinghua University, said that it is a common task for Chinese cities to upgrade their emergency response systems as they continue to develop and grow.

Source: Xinhua
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