Over the past few years the floods in the UK have made national headlines. Homes destroyed, businesses gone under (literally) and insurance companies left to pay out millions in claims. There are no words to describe the devastation that floods cause to home and business owners affected by months of fetid water seeping into their possessions and soft furnishings. Even more unthinkable is the unbearable pain and suffering to the few whose families are left grieving loss of life.

Why are we subjected to these calamities of nature? Is it just nature expressing its awesome power or nature somehow testing us to see how we will cope? The two quotes below capture the essence of the different views.

Charles Darwin:
“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”

Leonardo da Vinci:
“Water is the driving force of all nature.”

Whatever the reasons, it would seem that nature is telling us something and if we wish to avoid ‘judgement day’ we need to change our habits and activities which may be contributory factors to flooding. To demonstrate exactly how forceful water can be, here is a list of the worst floods ever recorded:

1. Central China Floods 1931, China: The world’s worst flood began in August 1931 when, after three days of continuous rain, the water height of the Yangtze River and the Huai River rose dramatically, drowning around 200,000 people in their sleep. The flooding caused by the two rivers led to widespread waterborne diseases (including cholera and typhoid) and caused the deaths of millions of people. There was also devastation to cattle, agriculture and livelihood. The series of floods was responsible for around 4 million deaths and devastation to the lives of 25 million people. This destruction became the catalyst for countries round the world to set up an Efficient Disaster Management (PDF download) system.

Flooded Yangtze River, Nanjing, China

2. Yellow River Flood 1887, China: The Yellow River Flood in 1887 killed more than 900,000 and left more than 2 million destitute. The continuous rain began on 28 September 1887, and the disaster management team took eight months to discover the true extent of the damage. More than 50,000 square km of land became submerged, and the resulting diseases and lack of essentials doubled the death toll.

3. Yellow River Flood 1938, China: Unlike other catastrophes, this flood in 1938 was forged by the Chinese Government of the day. Under pressure to halt the advancing Japanese army and with all their efforts failing, the government took the decision to lift the Yellow River gates, causing the Yellow River Flood. Thousands of kilometres of agricultural land were flooded, many villages were destroyed, just under a million people killed, and several million more left to live as refugees. The official reports indicate that around 800,000 people drowned.

To be continued in the next post.

(Photos by K Connors and Paul Mannix)