You may not know it if you watch CNN or Fox News, but China is experiencing its worst flooding in over 100 years, and certainly the worst flooding it has experienced in the modern era since the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.
The Three Gorges Dam is the world's largest Hydro-electric power station, completed along the Yangtze River basin in 2006, with additional power station construction and spillway added in 2012. The reservoir it creates is more than 410 miles long, and effectively creates the largest man-made reservoir in the history of the world. The Three Gorges Dam system includes the Dam itself, with its reservoir, power plant and boat locks, and then a series of upstream and downstream levees and dams that collectively make up the drainage and additional power generation plants for other towns and cities along the path of the Yangtze. Importantly, the drainage system downstream of the Three Gorges Dam includes both Wuhan and Shanghai, China.
At the time of its Construction, numerous engineers both in China and from around the world expressed concerns that since the focus of the 3 Gorges Dam project was power generation, insufficient attention was being paid toward flood control. The Yangtze is among the largest rivers in the world both by length and by volume, with only the Amazon River and Nile River producing greater volume of flow. The Yangtze and it's tributary system is also among the most flood-prone regions in the world, with historic floods that killed millions of Chinese. In 1931, a 4-month long flood disaster killed 3.7 Million people and displaced another 14 Million. Again in 1935, floods killed 137,000 people and destroyed entire cities, including Wuhan, China. Again in 1952, the Yangtze basin flooded along the Hubei province where Wuhan is located and killed another 33,000 from flooding plus another estimated 400,000 who later died of a plague (likely Swine Flu) that ravaged through after the floodwaters had receded.
Since the completion of the 3 Gorges Dam, the drainage basin of the Yangtze is also one of the largest food and grain production corridors in the world. Fully 20% of the world's supply of Corn, Maze and many fruits and vegetables are grown in the Yangtze flood basin. China is also the world's largest producer of Rice, Wheat, Potatoes, Tomatoes, Peanuts, Tea, Millet, Barley, Cotton, Corn and Soybeans...with the bulk of these food crops grown in the Yangtze flood basin.
It is also the region of China where they ranch for Hogs, Beef, and, importantly Chicken. More than 30% of the world's supply of Chicken and Eggs are farmed in the drainage basin of the Yangtze River, all of this downstream from the 3 Gorges Dam.
2020 has proven to be one of the worst Asian Monsoon seasons in history. Rain totals are more than 200% above the past 11 year average in China, but they are not alone, with additional massive flooding striking Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia and both North and South Korea. But while there have been deaths and dislocations in many places, none are as impacted as the 3 Gorges Dam region of China.
- The reservoir system that makes up the 3 Gorges Dam system passed flood stage some 6 weeks ago, and is now classified by China as a Level 2 (Level 1 being the worst and only reachable in the event the Dam's discharge system fails).
- China has had to destroy more than 2 dozen smaller dams and levees to let floodwaters into the drainage basin - namely, into the farmland, so as to attempt to spare cities downstream from catastrophic flooding.
- Official numbers out of China are difficult to come by, but estimates from the Taiwanese press indicate that as much as 50% of agriculturally developed lands along the Yangtze have endured some form of flooding in 2020. Millions of acres of agricultural land now sit under as much as 9 feet of floodwaters and will produce zero yield in 2020 and perhaps beyond.
- The 3 Gorges Dam itself is also in trouble. It had previously shown signs of 'Settling' and 'Buckling' that the Chinese Government had tried to dismiss as distortions in satellite images due to pixelation, but more recent photos also show further buckling in the key spillway section of the Dam, which is under the greatest pressure now as flood channels are kept wide open to prevent the Dam from being overstepped by floodwaters. Structural Engineers from the King's College in London recently issued a dire warning to the UN that they believe the Dam is on the verge of a catastrophic collapse that could place millions of lives at risk downstream.
Why This Could Be a Global Disaster
First is food security. China is not only the world's largest consumer of food (recall they have a population that is four-times greater than the US), but also the world's largest producer and supplier of food in terms of total output. And the primary food growing region of China is the Yangtze River basin and floodplain. We don't yet know the full extent of the damage to the global food supply from these floods, it's still an ongoing disaster where the focus is currently on saving human lives. But certainly, from the images, we have seen coming out of China, millions of acres of productive food-growing land has been rendered useless for the time being. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of livestock have been killed, including Hogs, Cattle, and Chickens. And hundreds of Warehouse buildings and silos that stored previously grown foods are also destroyed or inundated with water.
Secondly, this disaster comes directly on the heels of and in the same region as the COVID-19 Pandemic. The floodwaters that have now displaced hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of Chinese flow directly through the Hubei Province that was the site of the initial outbreak, including Wuhan City itself. Social distancing will now be impossible for the foreseeable future, and the risk of co-infections of other plagues like influenza are very real. And COVID-19 doesn't care about borders or humanitarian efforts. Any outbreak anywhere is a threat to everywhere else because of how easily the virus can be transmitted. But it is especially dangerous for a major outbreak to occur in China, because the world simply cannot trust the CCP to be forthright about what's happening so as to prevent the spread to other countries.
Third, if the 3 Gorges Dam does collapse, it threatens to kill millions of Chinese people downstream. More than 300 million people live downstream of the Yangtze Reservoir. A catastrophic collapse of the dam, however horrible to consider, may well create the worst humanitarian disaster in world history, one that could completely remake the world economy and geopolitical map for generations to come.
And finally, it's key to note that the Asian Floods of 2020 are not localized to China alone. The existence of the 3 Gorges Dam may indeed make this the greatest risk area, but millions of additional acres of food production is also now offline in more than a dozen countries, and COVID-19 related health-safety measures are necessarily being abandon in the very real fight for basic human survival. It may be some months before we know the full extent of crop and animal production losses, but global food supplies are taking a major loss as we speak...and China's weather service just forecast another 10-12 inches of rain by Sunday this week.
What Should Americans Do?
First, please stay informed. There is so much coverage of COVID-19 here in the US, of Donald Trump, of Black Lives Matter, it can become easy to get lost in the cacophony. Find a news service that is providing good International coverage and do the work to keep yourself and your family informed.
Second, if you have the means (and MOST of us do) consider planting a small garden, even if you have to user planter boxes in a window ledge or UV lighting in a spare bedroom. If you can't physically plant a garden, be sure to do what you can to prepare for food security, with long-term and healthy food supplies. At least some extra canned goods, if not more professionally prepared long-term food storage, freeze-dried foods and meat that you store properly.
Finally, if I may be so bold to suggest that we all take a moment to pray. To thank our God for the blessing that we live here, in America, and to pray for the well-being and comfort to those being so dramatically impacted by the twin disasters now in China...the Natural Disaster that is a once per century Monsoon season, and the manmade disaster that is the Chinese Communist Party and its corruption that magnifies the natural disaster there into what threatens to become a global catastrophe.