Shanghai: flood risk or flood safe?


A Shanghai official has dismissed claims that his city is the most vulnerable to severe flooding of nine major global cities. Hu Xin, deputy director of the local flood control authority, told a local TV station the metropolis could “resist a once-in-1,000-years high tide”, according to Shanghai Daily. 

Hu was responding to research published yesterday in Natural Hazards journal, which put mainland China’s richest city at the top of a flood exposure ranking for cities built on major river deltas  –  above Dhaka in Bangladesh and Manila in the Philippines. 

However, not everyone was so bold about Shanghai’s ability to stave of floods as Hu. Users of Chinese social media network Weibo pointed out that, over the years, Shanghai has been given more than a little outside help – from upstream provinces that have borne the brunt of raging waters. 

One post, from someone called “History is Beautiful”, said: “The reason Shanghai hasn’t seen any devastating floods to date is that historically floods have been discharged upstream instead. Floods covering the whole of Anhui province, people being displaced — if we hadn’t had such sacrifices, Shanghai would have turned into Venice a long time ago.” f4dadiao added “Shanghai hasn’t seen serious floods because Hubei and Anhui have had them instead.” 

In 2003, some 17,000 residents of Anhui, a notoriously flood-prone province, were evacuated to allow the government to blow up river dikes and release flood waters after the level of the Huai River (which eventually joins the Yangtze) reached record levels.  

What’s clear is that Shanghai’s flood strategy will now be under closer scrutiny, particularly after Beijing was criticised for being poorly prepared for the major floods that hit the capital earlier this summer – see our interview with flood official Cheng Xiaotao “Beijing floods: not enough prevention”.