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Thursday, August 5, 1999 Published at 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

China flood controls 'save thousands'

More than $7bn has been invested in flood defences since 1998

Huge spending on flood controls since 1998 has reduced the death toll and damage along the Yangtze River, according to Chinese officials.

Rupert Wingfield Hayes: One-fifth of the Chinese population was affected by flooding last year
So far this year more than 700 people have died and 5.5 million have been evacuated from their homes, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said on Thursday.

But these are a fraction of the 1998 figures when more than 4,100 were killed after the Yangtze and other major rivers burst their banks.

The China Daily quoted Water Resources Minister Wang Shucheng as saying that the 60bn yuan ($7.2bn) spent on flood control measures after last year's devastation had shown "remarkable benefits".

He said: "Although this year's flood has been almost the same as last year's, levees of rivers have stood the test so far."

Levels down

Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that the water level on the Yangtze is falling, with the level near Wuhan, the flood-prone capital of Hubei province, falling below the warning line for the first time in a month.

[ image: Last year's floods were the worst in 40 years]
Last year's floods were the worst in 40 years
Wuhan has invested 650m yuan (about $80m) in the construction of dams and dykes, the agency said.

(Click here for map of flood-affected areas)

But there are fears that late-summer floods on China's other major waterway, the Yellow River, may mean the country has not seen the worst of this year's devastation.

On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross launched an appeal for food and clothing for more than 60 million people it believes to be affected in some way by the floods along the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze River.

Red Cross official Jim Robertson praised recent government initiatives which he said "seem to have lasted so far".

"The flooding is not the classic flooding we had last year, in terms of major breaches of dykes," he said.

BBC Correspondent in Beijing, Rupert Wingfield Hayes, says the accuracy of Chinese claims is hard to verify because state media has given very little coverage of the flood situation and access to the worst-affected areas is tightly restricted.

The civil affairs ministry says 11.31 million hectares (28 million acres) of cropland has been inundated, of which 1.56 million hectares of crops have been destroyed.

But this is just over half the area affected in the 1998 floods and less than 60% of the number of people have been affected compared with 1998, the ministry says.

Each summer floods triggered by seasonal rains devastate wide areas of China. Millions of people remain vulnerable to waterborne diseases.

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