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)


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 Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Tattoos, hookah bars and doughnuts? Google Maps lays out what people really have on their minds during the holiday

This forum has been closed.
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.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs