The human costs and property damages resulting from flooding in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have long been key issues of concern. Nationwide floods in 1998 prompted the government to launch a programme to strengthen flood protection in major river basins and increase investment in flood control works. This resulted in the implementation of a new flood management policy and the passing of floodplain zoning and land use control legislation (Flood Control Law, 1998), which served to help the PRC move towards a natural resource management approach as a long-term holistic solution to flood risk. It also signaled a shift from the country’s dependence on structural measures for flood damage control to a more balanced approach incorporating both structural and non-structural methods.

The long-term objective of this study is to promote sustainable, economic and social development through effective flood management measures. The more immediate goal is to develop an integrated flood management strategy, appropriate to the flooding characteristics encountered in the PRC, where rapid development now exists. In light of the country’s increased urbanisation, the competition for available land has intensified, resulting in widespread demand for floodplain land, even in rural areas. As a result, the number of people and property at risk from flooding has escalated and some flood management measures are now much more difficult to implement, due to the historical lack of control over land use.

In addition, increased population and much greater economic activity has led to a water crisis, with escalating water demands and limited controls on development producing severe strains on water availability, both in terms of water quantity and water quality. Consequently, aquatic environments have been degraded by a combination of river engineering works, isolation of floodplains from rivers, and reduced inflows to wetlands and lakes. As part of this new flood management strategy, more attention is required to make sure flood management activities interact positively with other resource management issues, such as water resource and environment management practice.

Specifically, the study arrived at a strategic framework for future integrated flood management, after parallel reviews of: a) Current flood management practice in the PRC, through case study investigations of six selected provinces: Hebei, Shaanxi, Anhui, Hunan, Zhejiang and Guandong; b) Advanced flood management practice internationally.


The term flood control is used to describe a reliance on structural flood management measures, and implies a belief that the natural occurrence of floods can be controlled through human intervention, and nature can be harnessed. In reality, this is neither practical nor economically feasible as the natural availability of surface water is highly variable.

Management of the risk associated with human occupation and use of floodplains is the core of flood management, and is sometimes referred to as flood risk management. It entails an analysis of the exposure to hazards faced by a community, followed by identification, assessment and implementation of appropriate measures to manage or reduce the risk to levels regarded as acceptable.

The measures used to manage or reduce risk are often classified as structural or non-structural.

Structural measures involve construction of civil works, and typically aim to keep floodwaters away from people or property that would otherwise be at risk (i.e. they modify the flood hazard). Non-structural measures either aim to limit exposure to risk (e.g. through planning measures that regulate future development by land zoning, property acquisitions, resettlement, etc.), or to reduce the vulnerability of people and property at risk (e.g. through provision of flood warnings, emergency response planning, flood-proofing of buildings, etc.).

In the context of this study, integrated flood management is defined as the application of the most appropriate blend of structural and non-structural measures to achieve the positive outcomes of flood management. It requires comprehensive assessment of flood management measures at the river basin scale. In the past, a narrower focus on flood control benefits sometimes led to adverse impacts elsewhere (downstream, or on the opposite side of a river) or resulted in disregard for the impacts of basin-scale activity on local flood hazard. Understandably, we must consider flood management in the broader context of economic, social and environmental objectives.

Strategic Framework

The framework developed in this study is based on a risk management approach. Flood risk may be defined as the product of hazard, exposure and vulnerability:

Flood risk = hazard x exposure x vulnerability

The current approach to flood management is to work with government institutions where preparations are made for floods through planning activities and implemented through the management of:

•(a) Flood hazard (e.g. structural measures).

•(b) Exposure to flood hazard (e.g. land use planning and development controls).

•(c) The vulnerability of people to danger, and of property and assets to damage (e.g. through flood forecasting, emergency response, post-flood recovery services).

Accordingly, the five main elements of a strategic framework are: Institutions; Planning; Managing flood hazard; Managing exposure to flood hazard; and Managing vulnerability to the residual risk

The types of management measures shown are not exhaustive, but are indicative of the types of activities or measures requiring attention under each of the five main elements of the framework.

Some of these activities or measures are currently employed in China with varying degrees of success, and a few are either poorly executed or are largely ignored in current Chinese practice.

The proposed framework is illustrated in Figure 1.

Action plan

An action plan is needed to guide government in its implementation of the proposed strategic framework. Many types of actions will be required in technical, administrative, institutional, policy and legal sectors, as well as research, training and awareness generation activities for funding purposes. These will require concerted effort over a protracted period of time. To be most successful, the plan must define a clear course of action, so that the many protagonists involved can work harmoniously towards common goals. Most notably, a precondition for broad acceptance of the action plan is required.

The preliminary Action Plan was presented to an international workshop in Beijing on 25-26 April 2005. This plan was revised after further consultations and deliberations. While 118 separate action items have been identified, a shortlist of ten key active steps was produced. These steps are:

•Encourage the Vice Premier to convene a meeting of Ministers to consider the Action Plan, and decide what actions should be adopted in the short-term and what steps will be necessary to coordinate and plan their implementation.

•Implement amendments to the Flood Control Law and supporting regulations; to align the needs of integrated flood management with legislations, and clarify mandates for nonstructural measures.

•Identify stable sources of funding sustained at strategic levels so that government institutions can systematically plan for the integration of flood management measures in long-term objectives. It is recommended that budgetary allocations for flood management be tied to government revenue.

•Encourage the development of future structural engineering works as well as the maintenance and upgrading of existing infrastructure to build on the strengths of past achievements in the PRC.

•Undertake a series of campaigns to raise community awareness and public preparedness in all communities where there is significant flood risk.

•Embrace formal land use management initiatives with regulations for development and limitations on human activity appropriate to the flood risk.

•Instigate the wide application of flood risk mapping to provide valuable insight and act as a support mechanism to non-structural aspects of flood management, including land use management, flood forecasting and warning, emergency response planning and flood fighting, and flood insurance schemes.

•Carry out training to: raise awareness of integrated flood management and the risk management approach used within government institutions; and develop appropriate technical and administrative proficiency in staff

•Adopt standardised planning procedures using a formal, well-structured methodology for the development of flood management plans and the appraisal of project proposals.

•Improve existing flood forecasting systems and extend coverage of flood prediction and warning services to other parts of China.

On the back of the success of the National Flood Management Strategy Study, GHD was subsequently engaged by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to deliver the Technical Assistance (TA) programme – TA 4813 – Strengthening Flood Management Sustainability in Hunan Province – to support the implementation of Loan 2244-PRC: Hunan Flood Management Sector Project (HFMSP) in China.

The Advisory TA programme involves three components – a review and analysis of the Hunan Province’s existing flood warning system that optimises hydrometeorological data collection and flood preparedness; a feasibility assessment of providing flood insurance to an agreed pilot area; and an Annual Planning and Management System for all flood management interventions and activities in the Hunan Province.

This TA project will assist in strengthening the adoption of non-structural measures in the Hunan province to reduce the region’s dependence on structural measures for flood control, and reflects the government’s move from immediate flood control to a more integrated management approach.

A mission from the ADB conducted inception review for HFSMP in November 2006. The Mission held extensive discussions on the project preparatory activities, workplan, draft Project Administration Memorandum, and implementation issues with the officials from the HFSMP’s Provincial Project Management Office (PPMO), consultants for the TA project, and staff from the Local Project Management Offices (LPMOs).

Preparatory activities for the project, such as the establishment of the PPMO, domestic approvals for all 35 subprojects, resettlement measures and environmental impact assessments have been completed so far, and detailed designs are underway or completed for the 27 non-core subprojects.

The PPMO has been proactive, and has demonstrated a high degree of understanding of and commitment to the project and required measures for commencing implementation. The needs for capacity development and measures to build PPMO and LPMO skills and experience with project planning, administration and management systems and requirements are well recognised and understood, and placed as a high priority action as implementation gathers momentum.

The Advisory TA has begun the task of supporting on-site review of the 27 non-core subprojects, resettlement plans, environmental management plans, and ethnic monitory development plans prior to PPMO submission to ADB.

Author Info:

For further information on these projects please contact GHD’s China Operating Centre Manager, Dr Jin Zhang Zou, on 8610 8273 0870 or, or visit