In central China, an entire year's worth of rain fell in just a few days, wreaking havoc on the city of Zhengzhou, which has a population of nearly 5 million people, and killing scores when floodwaters overwhelmed Henan province. At least ten trains carrying a total of 10,000 passengers were delayed by the flash flood. Three of the trains were left on the tracks for 40 hours with no means of escape for the passengers, and 12 of those passengers have now died. Meanwhile, torrential rains continue to fall, and the death toll in the region continues to increase. To channel the flooding and ease the pressure generated by the rising waters, the Chinese government has blown up a dam in the vicinity.
The panic and misery felt by those directly affected by the terrible flooding cannot be exaggerated, and it is far from the most serious concern, but it is only one part of the tale. The destruction and inconvenience caused by the torrential rains reach far beyond the Henan province's borders. “The floods that have wracked central China, submerging swaths of a major economic and transportation hub, are threatening supply chains for everything from cars and electronics to pigs, peanuts, and coal,” according to Reuters.
The economic consequences of this delay will exacerbate the hardships that the people of central China have already seen as a result of the flooding, which has resulted in days of power outages, transportation problems, and other issues. “On Thursday, power was partially restored, and some trains and flights were operating,” according to the Reuters story, “but analysts said the disruption could last for several days, driving up prices and slowing business across densely populated Henan and neighboring provinces.”
The coal sector is one of the most badly damaged sectors, as China continues to rely on the high-polluting fossil fuel for the majority of its energy mix, even as it attempts to phase it out. Furthermore, the coal supply chain disruption occurs at a time when demand is highest, as consumers use more energy to beat the summer heat.
While the flooding in central China was unprecedented, it is likely to become more prevalent in the coming years, as will supply chain disruptions induced by an increased occurrence of severe weather patterns around the world as a result of global warming. The Guardian noted this week that “China regularly experiences flooding in the summer months,” but that “rapid urbanization and conversion of farmland, as well as the worsening climate crisis, has exacerbated the impact of such events.”
China is far from alone in this regard. Global warming, increasingly frequent natural disasters and severe storm systems are threatening countries' energy security all across the world. We saw the devastation wrought by a severe cold spell in Texas earlier this year when exceptionally cold temperatures combined with a catastrophic grid failure resulted in hundreds of deaths. Experts have also cautioned that the aging nuclear fleet in the United States is unprepared for global warming, with dire consequences if industry and government leaders do not take action.
In an era defined by globalization and ever-longer, more complicated supply chains, events like last week's flooding in China highlight the significance of either making these supply systems considerably more resilient or broadening and strengthening local markets. Storms like the one pounding Zhengzhou are becoming more common and more violent all the time, and they have the potential to shut down vital supply networks, affecting people's access to food and power overnight. The importance of energy security and sovereignty has never been greater.