China's flood death toll worsened by urbanization, say critics

A view of central Beijing

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: China is coping with the effects of a different kind of disaster. The government in Beijing reports prices in the country spiked up in July. Massive flooding disrupted food supply routes and drove prices of food upward. Chinese officials say they are blaming the heavy rain for the problems, but as Marketplace's China Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz reports, some are pointing to China's rapid development as the culprit, too.


Rob Schmitz: For decades, industrial logging in this remote part of the country helped drive China's construction boom and economic growth. It also laid the hillsides bare. But it didn't stop there, says environmentalist Wen Bo. He says local officials, fueled by government funding, kept going back to the hillsides for raw material to build more.

Wen Bo: They have to get the material from this mountain, they had to dig in the log and get a lot of building material from this area. So this makes this area less stable.

Bo, who works for the U.S.-based Pacific Environment, says the massive death toll could have been prevented had local officials paid closer attention to sustainable growth and city planning instead of rapid urbanization:

Wen: They feel like by looking at the image of Shanghai, by looking at the image of Beijing, they feel like our development needs more tall buildings.

Chinese government officials have avoided blaming the disaster in Gansu province on unchecked development. They say it's a result of record rainfall in the country. China is being hit with the worst flooding in a decade. Thousands have died, and more than 12 million people have had to evacuate their homes.

In Shanghai, I'm Rob Schmitz for Marketplace.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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