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China's Floods Spread to Tibet and the Southwest, Rains Forecast

by Elisabeth Zingg

BEIJING, Aug 29 (AFP) - Floods that have devastated large areas of China over the past two months have spread to Tibet and the southwest and forecast torrential rain could worsen the situation, reports said Saturday.

A spokesman for southwestern Yunnan province's flood control bureau said landslides and mudslides set off by rains had killed 477 people and injured more than 7,000 this year in the mountainous province.

Rainfall, which has continued unabated since the end of June and already  destroyed 700,000 homes, will continue at least until the end of October, he said. Fourteen million people in Yunnan have been affected, with economic losses valued at 5.8 billion yuan (700 million dollars).

The situation was no better in neighbouring Tibet, where at least 53 people have been killed by flooding and mudslides since mid-June, the official press reported earlier this week.

The majority of major rivers, such as the Yarlung Zangbo (Brahmaputra) and the Lhasa river, are swollen, with more than 40 of Tibet's 70 districts affected by floods.

The official Xinhua news agency on Saturday quoted meteorologists as saying a new wave of heavy rains would soon hit much of the Himalayan region, where rising waters "have submerged large farming areas and damaged many houses over the past several weeks."

More than 100,000 civilians and troops have been mobilised to fight floods in Tibet and more than one million yuan (120,000 dollars) freed up to repair dykes in danger of collapsing.

According to the latest official toll released Wednesday, nationwide flooding concentrated in the Yangtze river basin and in northeastern China had killed more than 3,000 people this year.

The government began this week to admit that human errors, including massive deforestation carried out in recent years, had played an important role in worsening the severity of the flooding.

Lawmakers meeting in Beijing this week called for stricter environmental protection policies and greater spending to improve flood-control infrastructure.

Xinhua quoted them as saying the country would spend some 300 billion yuan (36.1 billion dollars) in the 1996-2000 period on water-control projects. Water levels were still high but receding on the Yangtze river in central China and the northeast's Nenjiang and Songhua rivers.

It will take at least two weeks of favourable weather to bring water levels back normal, but the flood season could extend into October if late typhoons hit the Chinese coasts.

The education ministry, meanwhile, announced two special funds to repair damaged schools and help students with flood-related financial difficulties begin the school year in September, the official China Daily reported.

The exact amount of the funds will be disclosed within two or three days, Xu Lin, deputy director of the ministry's finance department, was quoted as saying Friday.

According to incomplete statistics, 44,853 schools in 10 provinces were damaged in the floods. An estimated seven million of 8.5 million students affected by the flooding face difficulty with such costs, a ministry official said.

State television showed schoolchildren in northeastern Heilongjiang province cleaning up flood-damaged classrooms and receiving handouts of school supplies from soldiers.

The floods have caused at least 166.6 billion yuan (20 billion dollars) in economic losses nationwide.

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