China has the unfortunate distinction of of being the location of some of Southeast Asia’s worst natural disasters.
Throughout the 20th century, earthquakes killed more than half a million people in the country. About half of those victims died in a single event, the 1976 earthquake in Tangshan, 150 kilometres east of Beijing, that killed over 240,000.
It is believed 830,000 lives were lost in an earthquake in Shaanxi Province in 1556, the worst in history.
According to the Chinese authorities, over half of the country’s 677 cities are in areas of high earthquake intensity.
Then there are annual typhoons, which hit the Chinese coast every year. The most significant were Winnie in 1997 and Rananim in 2004. Luckily, neither one hit land at a point where they could cause damage on the scale of Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005.
Flooding is also an issue as, while only 8% of China’s landmass is prone to such events, the risk zones are home to almost half the total population.
The most famous recent example is the Great Flood of 1998. That summer, it touched the lives of 240 million people, killing 3,000 and destroying 18 million homes in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and China’s northeast.
Finally there are disease risks, the most prominent being avian influenza.
China got a taste of how dangerous a disease can be during the SARS outbreak in 2003. Less publicized, however, was the 1997 outbreak of avian influenza in Hong Kong.
Few are aware how close the world came to a pandemic that year, saved by the quick work of the Hong Kong government and a team of foreign experts who culled every chicken on the island.
In 2004, there were 50 outbreaks among poultry in China and in 2005 another 32 plus eight human cases. The scope of the problem is huge – there are 14 billion poultry across China, 60-70% in backyard farms.
As Paul Wilkins, China head for insurance and risk consultancy Marsh, noted: "China is a huge country. It’s not just one thing."
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