News / Asia

China Grapples with Worst Drought in More Than 50 Years

A general view shows the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze river in Yichang in central China's Hubei province (file photo)
A general view shows the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze river in Yichang in central China's Hubei province (file photo)

Multimedia

Cities and provinces along the Yangtze River in central China are grappling with the country's worst drought in more than 50 years. Resource analysts say the drought highlights not only the impact of climate change, but also China's persistent problem of water scarcity and how it must balance that with the country's enormous demand for energy and economic growth.

Poyang Lake is the largest freshwater lake in China and is just one example of how serious the drought has become.  The lake, which is located in Jiangxi province along the Yangtze River, has shrunk to less than half its usual size, and the lack of water has had a major impact on nearby fishing and farming.


With water levels so low, stretches of the Yangtze River have become impassable for cargo vessels, disrupting supply chains that fuel factories along the river, and transport manufactured products and agricultural goods.  Analysts say the river is used to transport about 100 billion tons of cargo each year.

Robert Kimball, a project coordinator at the World Resources Institute in Washington, says the drought is also affecting electric power production.

"There is a lot of hydropower in the Yangtze River basin.  For example, the Three Gorges Dam and power production from those sources has gone down by 20 percent according to some estimates as a result of this drought.  Any company that relies on that power is feeling the impact.  Some are even being forced to ration their power use," he said.

To help ease the effects of the drought, Chinese authorities have begun releasing massive amounts of water from the Three Gorges Dam to raise water levels.     

The drought's impact on power generation and commerce, Kimball adds, highlights the complexity of the problem.

"When you conduct something like water and power rationing, which is what we are seeing in the Yangtze River basin now, you have companies and governments in China trying to decide what type of sector, what type of use is the most important, the most critical and most productive use for our limited water resources," he said.

Keith Schneider, a senior editor at Circle of Blue, an international consortium of journalists and scientists that focuses on global water resources, says water scarcity is a growing problem in China.

“China has been losing moisture steadily since 2000, according to their National Bureau of Statistics.  In fact, they’ve lost 35 billion cubic meters of water annually since 2000.  That’s 350 billion cubic meters in total for the country.  And 350 billion cubic meters is a boat load of water.  It’s as much water as flows down the Yangtze River and past Shanghai in eight months,” Schneider said.

Chinese meteorologists say climate change is wreaking havoc on the country's water supply.

The construction of dams along the Yangtze River is also a contributing factor, Schneider says.  Up river from the Three Gorges Dam, there are 100 dams in various stages of construction that, much like the Three Gorges Dam, will have large reservoir.

"So filling those lakes is both a hindrance and a help because there is water stored there, so you can release it into the river.  But the fact is that those lakes also have to be filled in order to produce power from those hydropower dams," Schneider said.

To limit its use of water, China is aggressively expanding its production of alternative energy and is exploring ways to reuse its water resources in big cities.

Even so, water is a key component of the complex web of resources and energy generation that keeps China's massive economy growing. Coal production, for example, helps China fuel its economic growth and accounts for 23 percent of the country's water use.

"They [China] are bursting at the seams in everything.  They need more water; they need more energy; they need more coal.  They just need so many resources and the competition for energy, water and food there has come to a really important choke point, both in the north and the south.  And this drought in the Yangtze River - the longest and largest river in that country - is just emblematic of all of that," Schneider said.

According to Chinese state media, the drought has affected more than one million hectares of farmland in seven provinces in central China.  Local government officials reportedly have fired more than 4,000 cloud-seeding rockets into the sky to try to bring rain to parched regions along the river.  The forecast, however, continues to be for little rain until at least next month.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid