1510 on the Beijing Flood of 2012

’1510′ (yi wu yi shi 一五一十) is a Chinese idiom which means ‘to tell things objectively and honestly’. My1510.cn is a website founded by Phoenix TV journalist Rose Luqiu Luwei in 2007 that brings together essays by a range of Chinese writers.

After the recent floods in Beijing, 1510 opened a special section to cover the topic; this week’s digest echoes some of the discussions exchanged on this platform.

Beijing rainstorms, a revelation for Chinese people
By Feng Qingyang, July 23

This post opens with contrasted scenes of Beijing in the rain – acts of collective support and generosity, but also numerous instances of bureaucratic rigidity. Feng Qingyang then asks a central question: when a natural disaster strikes a city, causing deaths and chaos, who should be blamed?

Although you can’t control the rain, poor urban planning and inadequate drainage systems are partly to blame for the consequences of the flood. But officials prefer to develop skyscrapers and prestige projects – elegant boulevards or sporting venues – rather than develop a more valuable – but invisible – drainage system. Simple greed can explain it: Chinese cities are vying for metropolis status, because recognition will attract investors and shoot up land price, benefiting officials in control. But in the process long-term sustainable urban planning is sacrificed, and so lives are lost to poor infrastructure.
Marco Polo Project translation: Beijing rainstorms, a revelation for Chinese people
Original link: 北京暴雨给中国人的启示

Why is the Beijing drainage system so weak?
By Wang Qiang, July 24 2012

Qiang Wang proposes a slightly different analysis to the one offered by Feng Qingyang. Last year, after similar heavy rains, there was pressure on the government to develop Beijing’s drainage system, and funds have been allocated to these improvements – in fact, claims the author, by Chinese standards, Beijing is running ahead in that area. But standards are still too low, tolerating up to three floods a year. Urban expansion has been very quick, and for the reasons already discussed, priority is given to ‘prestige’ developments that will bring GDP growth, and influence the planners’ career progression and performance assessments; meanwhile, invisible underground infrastructure is left behind. And so Wang Qiang calls for better incentives, that would reward long-term benefits, but also more civic conscience among city planners.
Marco Polo translation: Why is the Beijing drainage system so weak?
Original link: 北京排水系统为何总是脆弱不堪?

What if the Beijing rainstorms happened in Hong Kong
By 1969, July 27 2012

This post offers a comparative examination of Beijing and Hong Kong’s emergency warning systems.

On the day of the storms, the author of this post, signing as ‘1969’, found himself driving in Beijing, unaware of the danger. The single warning he received was a generic text message from his phone company calling for prudence on the road, as heavy rains were predicted.

His experience in Hong Kong was very different when, on two different occasions, he witness a ‘typhoon alert number 8’. The first time was in 1998. Like other mainlanders, he considered then that Hong Kongers tend to make a fuss of everything. When he received numerous phone calls from the student accomodation guard, ensuring that all Mainland students were safely back in their dorm, he quietly laughed. However, after witnessing the violence of the storm, and seeing uprooted trees on the road the next morning, he changed his mind. No student suffered any harm that day, but all were shaken, and impressed.

The second time was with his family, during a trip to Hong Kong in 2007. They were shopping in Tsim Sha Tsui, when they were warned by guards to quickly go back home in safety – and realised they were the last people in the shopping mall. In spite of a mild anxiety, the crowds peacfully headed to the subway, and that night, 1969 was inside, safely, with his family while the storm rages outside.

The Hong Kong strategy is to maximize efforts in advance of a forecast natural disaster. This requires elaborate systems, and a population globally responsive to safety messages. This also requires a willingness, on the part of the local authorities, to cancel events if necessary, and put a temporary halt to all economic activities – but after the storm, the benefits of such an approach are very clear – rescue costs are minimal, and way fewer lives are lost.
Marco Polo translation: What if the Beijing rainstorms happened in Hong Kong
Original link: 如果北京的暴雨下在香港