June 22nd, 2011
07:58 AM GMT
Hong Kong, China (CNN) - From a suffocating drought to massive flooding, torrential rains in China continue to bombard the country’s commodities markets, erasing thousands of hectares of crops and driving local food prices to historic levels.
More than 1.6 million people have been evacuated across China as of Wednesday, and the country’s Ministry of Civil Affairs estimated the total direct economic losses at 32.02 billion yuan ($4.9 billion), CNN’s Helena Hong reported. At least 170 people have been killed and another 83 have gone missing since flooding began earlier this month, state officials said.
Aside from the loss of human life, 1,000 businesses have been destroyed and more than 400,000 hectares (roughly 1 million acres) of crops have been expunged by the recent slew of flooding, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Corn prices in particular continue to swell amid concerns that rising flood waters will ruin most, if not all, of the recently planted crop across central China, Bloomberg reported.
Among the hardest hit regions in China was Zhejiang province, where direct economic losses have climbed to as high as 7.69 billion yuan ($1.19 billion). Additionally, more than 8,400 houses have been washed away by flood waters, according to figures compiled by the Global Post.
Fruit and vegetable prices have ballooned in Zhejiang, rising 40% in the provincial capital of Hangzhou after recently planted crops were washed away by the heavy rains. Officials in Zhejiang expect prices to remain high for at least another two weeks, Xinhua news agency reported Monday.
Meanwhile, residents evacuated Thursday from Zhuji – a city in southern Zhejiang province – began returning to their homes. Shou Qoingdam, a 22-year-old resident of Zhuji, told Reuters that two levees adjacent to the city could have been repaired, avoiding catastrophe.
“When it first started, the breach [in the flood protection dyke] was not that huge – we could have easily fixed it," he said in an interview with Reuters. "But the government did not do anything… That's why we have such huge economic losses and so many people being affected by the flooding."
In Hubei province – home of the Three Gorges Dam – recent heavy flooding has accentuated government concern over the structural integrity of the world’s largest hydroelectric plant. Just last month, the Chinese government admitted that the dam had “urgent problems” and warned of environmental, construction and migration "disasters.".
The floods come on the heels of one of the worst Chinese droughts in 50 years.
Prior to the flooding, the Wall Street Journal reported that food prices were up 11.7% in May compared to 2010, pegging inflation at more than twice the 5.5% increase in the overall consumer index.
And the heavy rains aren’t expected to stop any time soon.
Weather experts in China anticipate sustained rainstorms to stretch as far as Shanghai in the next two days.
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