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DisasterLink Country Profile: China

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China at a Glance

Population: 1.4 Billion (2021)
Major Threats: Earthquakes, Typhoons, Floods, Drought, Sandstorms, Storm Surges, Landslides and Debris Flows, Hailstorms, Extreme Temperatures, Outbreaks of Pests, Disease from Rodents, Forest and Grassland Fires, and Red Tides 
Populations Affected: 30% of all population
Locations Affected: Different Regions Including Provinces, Autonomous Regions, and Municipalities are Experiencing Varying Degrees of Adverse Effects From Natural Disasters
Industries Affected: Industrial, Agricultural, Fisheries, Tourism
Compounding Issues: Climate Change, Rapid Industrialization, and Urbanization
World Risk Index Ranking: 8
Global Climate Risk Index: 32 (2019)


China experiences a wide array of significant natural disasters, including meteorological events, earthquakes, geological upheavals, oceanic disturbances, and biological crises. These numerous hazards collectively encompass over 100 different types. In recent decades, China has been affected by nearly all major disaster types, excluding volcanic eruptions. These include earthquakes, typhoons, floods, droughts, sandstorms, storm surges, landslides, hailstorms, cold and heat waves, pest infestations, rodent diseases, forest and grassland fires, and red tides. 

These threats are spread across China’s diverse geographical regions. All provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities face varying degrees of negative consequences from natural disasters. Flooding poses a threat to two-thirds of the nation’s territory. Coastal areas in the east and south, as well as certain inland provinces, frequently experience tropical cyclones. Northeastern, northwestern, and northern China often suffer from droughts, with more severe instances common in the southwest and southern regions. Destructive earthquakes measuring 5.0 or higher on the Richter scale have impacted each province, autonomous region, and municipality. 

China’s landscape, comprising 69 percent of mountains and plateaus, is particularly susceptible to geological disasters like landslides, debris flows, and rock collapses due to complex geological structures. Coastal regions are prone to storm surges and red tides, while forests and grasslands are at risk of fires. More than half of the country’s population and over 70 percent of its cities are in areas vulnerable to meteorological, earthquake, geological, and oceanic disasters. 

Major Threats and Economy

Significant Consequences

From 1989 to 2018, natural hazards resulted in the loss of 195,820 lives and caused direct physical damages valued at 11,237 billion Chinese yuan (CNY, in 2018 values), roughly equivalent to US$1,698 billion (in 2018 values). Direct damage escalated from US$47 billion in the 1990s to US$65 billion in the 2010s. Since 2000, approximately 38.86 million hectares of crops have suffered yield losses of at least 10 percent each year due to natural disasters. Among these, 4.95 million hectares were severely devastated, experiencing yield losses exceeding 80 percent. Over the past thirty years, the average annual fatalities per million people amounted to five individuals, and direct economic loss as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) stood at 2.25 percent (GFDRR, 2020). 

Perils of Large-Scale Disasters

China has faced substantial damage from several major large-scale disasters. The 1998 China floods affected 223 million people, resulting in 4,150 deaths and extensive harm to 21.2 million hectares of crops and 6.85 million houses. The disaster caused direct economic losses of 255.9 billion yuan (Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters). The 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, with a magnitude of 8.0 claimed the lives of 69,227 individuals (with an additional 17,923 missing) and led to direct economic losses of 854.14 billion yuan. 

Climate Change Impacts

Globally and regionally, climate change has heightened and will further intensify the frequency and severity of disasters in China. The probability of super typhoons and intense rainfall is on the rise, increasing the likelihood of riverine and flash floods. Droughts and heatwaves are projected to become more frequent and severe due to climate change. Geological disasters triggered by climate extremes, such as landslides and debris flows, are also expected to occur more frequently. Coupled with population growth, economic advancement, rapid urbanization, and interregional trade integration, China faces even greater disaster risks in the future. This could also result in cascading global impacts of increasing magnitude. 

Hydrometeorological Vulnerability

China is heavily impacted by monsoon conditions and frequent occurrences of meteorological disasters. Almost every year experiences regional and localized droughts. The eastern coastal regions experience approximately seven tropical cyclones annually. Due to its location at the convergence of the Eurasian, Pacific, and Indian Ocean plates, China is susceptible to frequent earthquakes resulting from ongoing tectonic activity. Most of these earthquakes are continental in nature, contributing to about a third of global destructive continental earthquakes. With its mountainous terrain, China’s hilly and mountain regions frequently face collapses, landslides, and debris flows. Forest and grassland fires also commonly occur. 

Geophysical Vulnerability

Due to its unique geographical location facing the Pacific Ocean to the east, China experiences a monsoon-influenced climate, with the southeastern coastal areas particularly susceptible to typhoons. Situated within a major global seismic belt, China frequently encounters earthquakes. The country’s diverse terrain, comprising hills and plateaus which account for 69% of its land area, faces challenges like soil erosion, water loss, wind erosion, and desertification. This geographical context gives rise to distinct features in China’s natural disasters, including their variety, frequent occurrence, regional disparities, seasonal patterns, and significant impact on losses. 

China is susceptible to a wide range of natural hazards, encompassing floods, droughts, earthquakes, typhoons, and landslides/mudslides, which collectively contribute to 80%-90% of the annual disaster-related losses. The occurrence of these hazards is notable, with an average frequency of over 7 for large-scale droughts, 5.8 for floods, 7 for typhoons, and 2.5 for low temperatures and freezes each year since 1949. Influenced by the monsoon climate, China’s natural disasters exhibit distinct regional and seasonal variations. Spring and autumn see droughts mainly in the Northwest Loess Plateau and the North China Plateau, while summer and autumn witness floods primarily in the seven major river basins, especially in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and Huaihe River. The impact of natural disasters on China’s population and economy is also notably severe. 

Adaptation and Local Context

In 2018, the National Emergency Management Office of the State Council was established to bolster emergency management and government functions. Serving as a central hub, it oversees daily national emergency operations, responds to public security events, gathers real-time information, and facilitates interdepartmental coordination. Since its inception, the office has effectively enhanced disaster emergency management, including implementing the State Master Plan for Rapid Response to Public Emergencies and conducting vital meetings to synchronize emergency efforts. It collaborates across governmental levels, bolsters emergency preparedness, and leads a Key Technologies R&D Program for emergency platform construction, boosting technological support and response efficiency.

The Chinese disaster risk (public security) management system comprises the State Council Emergency Management Office and has five deliberative committees, they are the National Committee for Disaster Reduction, National Committee for Work Safety, Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, State Council Earthquake Relief Headquarters, and National Forest Grassland Fire Prevention Headquarters. These committees consist of State Council officials, ministry representatives, and vice ministers. Locally, corresponding disaster risk (public security) management organizations and centers have been established, mirroring the national framework.

Opportunities and Recommendations to International Donors

China views humanitarian assistance as an aspect of developmental support, mainly routed through bilateral channels. This approach underscores the nation’s dedication to humanitarian aid, giving precedence to responding to natural disasters over conflicts. Despite this, China, being highly susceptible to natural disasters and grave incidents, faces notable vulnerabilities. The country has undertaken significant reforms in lessening disaster risks, showcasing an increasing commitment to international cooperation in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). 

In connection with efforts to reduce disaster risks, China is increasingly open to collaborating with global entities for the exchange of knowledge and capacity-building. This is aimed at strengthening domestic disaster risk reduction and contributing to the global DRR framework. China’s ongoing reforms are making noticeable improvements. Additionally, it suggests that China’s expressed desire for greater international cooperation in DRR introduces a new opportunity for integration. It calls on both the global community and the Chinese government to capitalize on this growing collaboration and seize this long-awaited chance. 

Despite worthy initiatives by the Chinese government to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters, specific shortcomings require immediate attention from international donors. These include inadequacies in coordinating and harmonizing relief efforts, the need for stronger legislation, regulations, and policies related to disaster reduction, the establishment of a robust disaster monitoring system, increased support for infrastructure development focused on disaster prevention and reduction, and heightened public awareness. As China works towards enhancing its overall capacity for preventing and reducing natural disasters, the government will consistently prioritize the well-being of its citizens. The focus will be on enhancing comprehensive disaster reduction capabilities across society, particularly emphasizing grassroots communities in both urban and rural areas. This initiative will firmly raise public awareness about disaster prevention, relief, and self-resilience. 

See Disaster Profile for other locations in China here: 

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