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Natural disasters in China cause tens of billions of dollars in economic loss and hundreds of deaths every year. While people accept most of the disasters as unpreventable, the losses worsen already stark social inequality.

This summer, Mengwa, a region in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui, became one of the worst-hit areas during China’s record flooding, not because of the abundant rainfall but because it is one of the country’s biggest flood diversion zones. For decades, whenever floods threaten the industrial zones and key transportation hubs downstream, this region becomes submerged when officials release the Wangjia dam upstream. For the authorities, it makes sense to flood a vast rural area that contributes less to the country’s gross domestic product.

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