After record rains caused authorities to reroute water from swollen rivers to some populated regions for storage, nearly 1 million residents in China’s northern Hebei province were moved, provoking outrage online over the homes sacrificed to rescue Beijing.
The huge Hai River basin, the size of Poland, comprises Hebei, Beijing, and Tianjin. Over a one-week period beginning in late July, the region’s 110 million people were subjected to the worst flooding in six decades, with Hebei, notably Baoding prefecture, bearing the brunt of the damage.
According to flood control laws, when basin-wide flooding causes reservoirs, the first line of defence, to exceed their limits, water may be temporarily channelled to so-called “flood storage areas” – including low-lying populated land.
On July 31, Hebei province opened seven of its 13 designated flood storage areas, including two in the city of Zhuozhou in Baoding south of Beijing and north of Xiongan, a zone President Xi Jinping aims to develop into an economic powerhouse serving Hebei, Beijing and Tianjin.
On Aug. 1, Hebei’s Communist Party Secretary Ni Yuefeng called Xiongan a top priority for the province’s flood prevention work, according to local state media.
On his visit to flood storage areas in Baoding, Ni added that it was necessary to reduce the pressure on Beijing’s flood control and create a “moat” for the Chinese capital.
“Beijing should foot the bill”, wrote a netizen on the popular Chinese microblog Weibo.
In other posts on Zhuozhou, netizens said residents weren’t aware they lived in a flood storage area and the rights of the minority had been sacrificed.
“I’d like to know, among all the people living in flood storage areas across the country, how many of them know they are living in such areas?” one angry netizen asked.
Phone calls to the Hebei provincial government on Sunday seeking comment went unanswered. It did not immediately respond to an email.
Record-breaking rains in Baoding led to the overflowing of 67 of its 83 small reservoirs and water in all of its 10 large reservoirs rising to dangerous levels, the Baoding government said on Saturday.
“When the flood is too large and exceeds the defence capacity of the embankment, it becomes an inevitable need for flood control to use flood storage areas,” the official China Water Resources News said in a post on Weibo on Aug. 1.
“This is also for the sake of protecting the overall situation. You have to sacrifice one part for the sake of the bigger whole.”
As of 8:00 a.m. (0000 GMT) on Friday, Hebei had relocated more than 1.54 million people, including 961,200 from flood storage areas, state media reported on Saturday.
Residents in flood storage areas “have given up their homes to protect everyone”, and will be compensated according to the law, said a department of the Ministry of Water Resources.
On Saturday, authorities of Bazhou city in another part of Hebei expressed “heartfelt thanks” to residents for following orders and evacuating their homes ahead of time.
A compensation review for damaged agricultural production and housing will be conducted when the flood recedes, they said.
But not all citizens appeared convinced.
A video reposted X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, on Saturday appeared to show citizens unfurling a banner outside the entrance of the Bazhou municipal office that said, “Taking my home is the clear aim of the flood water discharge, but you said it’s all due to the rain”.
Reuters could not independently verify the footage.
“One small part of society is still big, and their sacrifice has been profound,” a netizen lamented on Weibo.