Posted by: waterworks | December 2, 2007

8. When virgins lessen flood risk

As any good flood risk assessor will tell you, all floods are not necessarily hazardous.  Only when people are living in proximity to water does the potential for a flood hazard materialise. Simply put, people must be present to run the risk of getting wet.  At this point, efforts to minimise possible adverse effects of the hazard usually begin.  Several thousand years ago in ancient China, attempts were made to reduce flood risk along the Yellow River by routinely offering a virgin sacrifice to the river god.  According to one source: “In Zhou civilization, people continued their attempt to appease the gods by giving them gifts.  Those who could afford it sacrificed cattle, sheep, pigs or horses.  The sacrificing of humans diminished from what it had been under the Shang emperors, but Zhou emperors had their wives or friends join them in the grave, and each year a young woman was offered as a bride to the river god.  This latter sacrifice began with sorceresses choosing the most attractive woman they could find.  They dressed the girl in satin, silk and jewellery and put her on a nuptial bed on a raft.  They floated the raft down river.  The raft sank and the girl drowned, gone as a gift to the invisible world of the river god.”  As flood hazard adaptation strategies go, was this one a success?  It is exceedingly unlikely that the ritual routinely lowered river discharge below bank-full levels.  However, it probably deterred families with un-married daughters from living close to the river, thereby reducing the size of the at-risk population – in which case it would indeed qualify as an early attempt at hazard adaptation. Thanks to Professor David Crichton for drawing attention to this.


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