China central govt blames local officials for covering up true death toll in Henan floods

89 officials face disciplinary actions.

Jean Chien Tay | January 27, 2022, 06:36 PM

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China's central government has blamed local officials in Henan for covering up the number of deaths and people who went missing due to the flood in July 2021, according to a report from the State Council, China's highest government body.

The State Council said local officials in Henan either concealed or delayed the recording of 139 cases of people who died or went missing, with some officials “intentionally obstructing” the reports.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and Foreign Policy (FP) referred to the acknowledgement as a "rare" move from the Chinese central government.

The report said more than 14 million people were affected by the flood, and the loss amounted to over RMB120 billion (S$25.5 billion).

The city of Zhengzhou was the hardest hit, incurring losses of RMB40.9 billion (S$8.7 billion), about 34 per cent of the total losses.

The State Council had conducted an investigation for a month after there were widespread doubts about the true death toll.

Late reporting of casualties and missing persons

The number of deaths and missing people is 398, with the city of Zhengzhou accounting for 380 of them, over 95 per cent of the total count, the report said.

Local officials had only reported 97 deaths a week after the disaster happened.

Henan Province was hit by the flood after experiencing "exceptionally heavy rain" from Jul. 17 to Jul. 23, 2021. Zhengzhou city's weather bureau described the volume of rainfall to be "once in a thousand years", Reuters reported.

However, China's State Council said the city did not report the number of deaths and missing people for four days, from Jul. 24 to Jul. 27, 2021, and only reported 97 such cases on Jul. 29 in the same year.

After "multiple requests" from the central government and two "emergency notices" from the provincial government, the city finally reported 322 cases two days later (Jul. 29, 2021), and later updated the number to 339 on Aug. 1, 2021.

The report also pointed out that local officials did not respond to extreme weather conditions in a timely manner, adding that they ignored days of warning by weather authorities and failed to initiate an emergency-response mechanism until after the majority of casualties had already occurred.

Subway and highway tunnel flooded

Zhengzhou's subway was also flooded, with videos of commuters in chest-deep water circulated online at the time.

The State Council's report confirmed that 14 people died as a result, while 953 people were "evacuated".

A highway tunnel was also flooded, causing five individuals to drown and one city official to die while on duty. A total of 247 cars in the area were submerged during the flood.

89 officials facing disciplinary actions

According to Chinese state-run media Xinhua News Agency, 89 officials are facing disciplinary actions due to handling of the flood.

Another eight officials, including those in charge of the construction of the subway line and the highway tunnel, were arrested by the police.

Zhengzhou's mayor and vice secretary of the city council was "downgraded" from his position and given a "serious warning" by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), while one of the deputy mayors was relieved of his duty, including other responsibilities in the party.

Additionally, two more deputy mayors were given "demerits".

Under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping, analysts said China has inclined towards a top-down approach, and local officials have chosen to underreport negative news for fear of getting punished as a result.

Blaming local officials when something goes wrong has also been a strategy used by higher authorities to insulate themselves from public criticism and remain intact in the aftermath of a crisis, analysts had opined.

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Top image via STR/AFP/Getty Images & The Wall Street Journal/AFP/Getty Images