Catastrophic Flooding in Central China: Pingjiang County Faces Worst Deluge in 70 Years

Pingjiang County in Hunan province faces its worst flooding in 70 years, with over 5,300 residents evacuated and concerns raised about human rights protection.

Catastrophic Flooding in Central China: Pingjiang County Faces Worst Deluge in 70 Years
Man soaked in body of water, by Constant Loubier, via Unsplash, April 26th, 2019


Marina Sáenz

Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence


In a harrowing turn of events, Pingjiang County in Central China's Hunan province is grappling with its most severe flooding in seven decades. Torrential rains have unleashed unprecedented water levels in the Miluo River, submerging vast portions of the county and forcing local authorities to declare a "wartime" emergency. As one-third of the old town and half of the new town lie underwater, over 5,300 residents have been evacuated in a race against rising waters. The relentless downpours, which have drenched the region since mid-June, have overwhelmed dykes and reservoirs, leading to catastrophic breaches and landslides. With the water levels continuing to surge and more rain in the forecast, Pingjiang's plight serves as a stark reminder of nature's devastating power and the urgent need for robust disaster preparedness.

The catastrophic flooding in Pingjiang County is marked by a series of alarming developments. The Miluo River, which courses through Pingjiang before joining the Yangtze, has surged to 77.7 metres as of early Tuesday, surpassing the alert level by over 7 metres and reaching its highest recorded level since 1954. This surge has caused a dyke to burst in two sections along the river’s upper reaches, inundating large areas of the county. The relentless rainfall, which has accumulated to 759.6mm since June 18th, is the highest on record for this period since data collection began in 1961. The floodwaters, reaching up to 3 metres in some areas, have submerged one-third of Pingjiang’s old town and half of its new town, severely disrupting daily life. Emergency response teams have mobilised over 15,500 rescue workers across more than 160 teams to aid in evacuation and relief efforts. With bus services halted and traffic rerouted, local infrastructure is strained under the weight of this natural disaster. The weather bureau predicts continued heavy rains until Wednesday, potentially pushing water levels beyond the record high of 78.16 metres. This ongoing crisis highlights the dire need for effective flood control measures and immediate humanitarian assistance to mitigate the devastating impact on Pingjiang’s 1.15 million residents.

The catastrophic flooding in Pingjiang County has not only caused extensive physical damage but also raised significant concerns regarding the protection of human rights under international law. The forced displacement of over 5,300 residents due to the rising waters underscores the urgent need to address the rights and protections of internally displaced persons (IDPs). According to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, endorsed by the United Nations, IDPs should enjoy the same rights and freedoms as other citizens, without discrimination. This includes the right to an adequate standard of living, which encompasses access to essential services such as housing, food, water, and sanitation. The current crisis in Pingjiang also brings to light the obligations of the Chinese government under international human rights frameworks, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which China has ratified. The ICESCR mandates the protection of basic human rights, such as the right to adequate housing and living conditions, which are severely compromised during such natural disasters. As floodwaters submerge vast areas of Pingjiang, the immediate challenge lies in ensuring that displaced individuals receive prompt and effective humanitarian assistance. This includes providing temporary shelter, medical care, and ensuring access to food and clean water. Furthermore, the long-term recovery efforts must focus on rebuilding and restoring affected communities, ensuring that displaced persons can return to their homes safely and with dignity. This situation calls for a coordinated response that adheres to international standards for disaster response and human rights protection, emphasising the need for sustainable solutions that reduce vulnerability to future natural disasters.

The devastating flooding in Pingjiang County serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for robust disaster preparedness and effective humanitarian responses grounded in international human rights principles. As the community grapples with the aftermath of this unprecedented natural disaster, the plight of internally displaced persons must remain at the forefront of recovery efforts. Ensuring that those affected receive the necessary support to rebuild their lives, while upholding their fundamental rights, is imperative. This disaster calls for a renewed commitment to international standards that protect the most vulnerable in times of crisis, fostering a more resilient and equitable society.  





Sources and further reading:

Coi Li. (July 2nd, 2024). ‘Wartime’ situation as worst flooding in 70 years hits county in central China. The South China Morning Post. (Accessed July 8th, 2024).