As the debate about the Three Gorges dam rages on, on June 1, E. Jingping, Secretary General of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters and Vice Minister of Water Resources, said that the safety of reservoirs continues to remain a challenge and is a weak link in this year's flood prevention efforts. As of last year, an average of 68 reservoir dams collapse every year in China.
He said, “The extent of casualties and economic cost from a dam collapsing possibly surpasses that of a natural disaster like a tsunami or a strong earthquake, and is no less damaging than a local war.”
At present, China has 85,160 reservoirs. From 1954 to 2005, a total of 3,486 reservoir dams collapsed. Each year, many reservoirs experience flood damage. In 2004 alone, 7,286 reservoirs experienced flood damage and are in need of repair.
According to China Newsweek reports, among the 85,000 plus reservoirs in China, over 30,000 (35 percent) have problems but continue to be operational, constituting a major hidden danger in water resource facilities.
Now, in China, not one province, city, or district is free of dangerous reservoirs. In the provinces of Hunan, Guangdong, Sichuan, Shandong, Yunnan, Hubei, and Jiangxi, each province has more than 1,600 dangerous reservoirs. In Guangdong Province, there are 3,685 dangerous reservoirs—a total of 55 percent of all reservoirs in the province.
Dangerous reservoirs are usually located upstream from cities at the county level and above in China's administrative system. For nearby areas that have a large difference in elevation, the safety, resources, cities, industries, and public facilities of the people downstream will be directly affected.
Those currently under threat include 25.4 percent of China's cites with 179 dangerous reservoirs, and 16.7 percent of county towns with 285 such reservoirs. The urban and rural populations living in the above-mentioned areas account for 146 million people. In total, 8.8 million hectares of cultivated land is under threat.
In the world's record of disasters due to human technical failures, the 1975 collapse of China's Banqiao reservoir dam in Henan province ranked first, which is higher than the Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union. In a matter of days, 26 dams collapsed one after another, which resulted in massive flooding in nine counties and one town. More than 100,000 corpses were retrieved when the flooding receded. Deaths due to the repercussions of grain shortages and infectious diseases amounted to 140,000; while the total number of deaths recorded was 240,000. This death toll was comparable to the China's Tangshan earthquake in the following year, and the damage dealt was worse than the collapse of Egypt's Aswan reservoir dam.
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