Thursday 12 August 2010

China's landslide

Heavy rain is continuing to disrupt rescue efforts after Sunday’s landslide in north-west China. Mudslides have blocked a road and river used for bringing in supplies, while emergency shelters have been flooded, and more downpours are forecast.

At least 1,117 people have been killed, and another 600 are still missing. Zhouqu county, where the disaster has happened, has suffered ten major landslides over the last two centuries, but there are complaints that the authorities’ cavalier attitude to the environment in recent times has made things worse.

More than 120,000 hectares of forest were felled between 1952 and 1990, and mining and the building of dams in the steep valleys is said to have made things worse. A report in 2006 by the University of Lanzhou – the provincial capital - had drawn attention to the dangers.

The deadliest landslide in history was probably the one that devastated Venezuela’s coastal region in December 1999. Thirty-six inches of rain fell in just a few days, and flash floods and mudslides are reckoned to have killed up to 30,000 people. (See also my blogs of 17 April, 12 and 19 November, 2009.)

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