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

Video Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf 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.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs