Nearly 5.5 million people are still suffering from lingering drought in Yunnan and Sichuan despite the recent rains bringing some relief. Authorities say that only 290,000 fewer people and 220,000 fewer livestock in the two provinces are short of water because of the break in the weather. More than 400,000 hectares of crops have been affected, according to the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters. Rainfall in the two provinces has been at 10% of normal levels, threatening tobacco, corn and rice crops.
Separately, disaster relief authorities in Guizhou say that more than 5.5 million people have been affected by drought, rainstorms and hailstorms that have caused direct economic losses of 1.8 billion yuan ($283 million) so far this year. The picture above of an almost dried out reservoir in Weining County in Guizhou is dated May 20.
Meanwhile, three people died when torrential rain hit Chongqing, and more than 5,000 people had to be relocated after a heavy rainstorm hit parts of Hunan. In Nanning, capital of Guangxi, nearly 900 people were evacuated after a road next to which a school had been drilling for drinking water subsided, causing one building to collapse and six more to tilt.
The persistent drought that has hit 13 provinces in southwest and central China is starting to have an adverse impact on farming, China’s drought-relief officials have indicated for the first time. The fear is that the spring planting on 4 million hectares of crop land is threatened by the shortage of water. Reservoirs, such as the one in the picture above, in Shilin County, Yunnan, have dried up, worsening China’s structural water shortages. Approaching 8 million people and 4.6 million head of livestock are short of drinking water, officials say, with the latest number suggesting the impact of the lack of rain is spreading with the drought now in its third year in some parts. Yunnan, Sichuan, Hebei, Shanxi and Gansu are worse affected. A widespread emergency relief effort is underway.
Footnote: The main cash crops in Yunnan, where the drought is most intense, are rice, maize and wheat. The province is also known for its tobacco and tea.
The death toll from rain-triggered floods and landslides in central China has risen to 70 with 32 others missing, officials now say. The National Disaster Reduction Commission says more than 21 million people across eight provinces are now affected by the unusually late and heavy summer monsoon rains deluging Sichuan, Shaanxi, Henan, Chongqing, Hubei, Shandong, Shanxi and Gansu. Direct economic damages are put at an estimated 26 billion yuan ($4 billion). Hubei, Shaanxi and Sichuan have borne the brunt of it.
In the worst incident, a landslide that buried a brick factory and partially destroyed as ceramics plant in Baqiao, a suburb of Shaanxi’s provincial capital, Xian, 27 people are now reported dead with a further five missing. Rescue teams continue to recover bodies. (Update: The final death toll has been confirmed at 32 with the recovery of the last missing body on Tuesday, four days after the landslide.)
Meanwhile, the highest flood crest so far this year on the rain-swollen Yangtze river reached the Three Gorges Dam on Wednesday morning, raising the water level to 164 meters, 20 meters above the alert level.
The numbers affected by the drought in southwestern China continues to edge up. Officials say that 12.6 million people are now short of water while 6.25 million hectares of farmland have been left parched as rivers and reservoirs dry up across Yunan (seen above in a photograph taken on Sept. 7th), Guizhou, Hunan, Sichuan and Chongqing. At the end of last month, 12 million people were said to be facing water shortages. Relief teams have been deployed across the region to ensure emergency water supplies while local officials are being instructed to prevent food shortages. Light rain is in the forecast for the next three days but it will likely provide scant relief from the arid spell and high temperatures that have persisted since July.
The drought in southwestern China is getting worse despite some recent rainfall. State media report that more than 12 million people are short of water in Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan, Sichuan and Chongqing, twice as many as reported a week ago. More than 9 million head of cattle are also short of water, half as many again as last week. Nearly 6 million hectares of crops have been parched as hundreds of reservoirs and rivers have dried up since the drought started in July. The picture above is of what remains of the Dongjin reservoir in Yunnan, taken on Aug. 23. Low water levels have also hit hydropower generation, exacerbating seasonal power shortages.
As eastern China battened down in the face of Typhoon Muifa, officials have counted up the devastation caused by natural disasters in July: at least 204 dead and 43.6 billion yuan ($6.75 billion) in economic losses, with 7 million hectares of crops damaged. Inner Mongolia, Shandong, Sichuan and Shannxi were hardest hit by floods and landslides, while the drought in Guizhou and Hunan became more severe. July’s death toll followed the 279 who had died as a result of natural disasters in June, which took the total for the first half of this year to at least 449. During those six months, China was hit by seven 5.0-plus magnitude earthquakes while the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river experienced their heaviest rainfall in more than half a century.
A large portion of the deaths in July were caused by lightening strikes, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, without giving a number. In June, 15 people died after being hit by lightening, the ministry had said earlier. Such fatalities have been on the decline since 2007 when lightening killed 744 people, mostly farmers caught in thunderstorms and unable to find shelter, making it the third most deadly type of natural disaster after floods and mudslides that year. Even so, we estimate, some 300 people were killed by lightening last year. Early warning systems for severe storms have been improved, but cover only 85% of China’s rural areas. It is not expected that the percentage will reach 90% until 2015.
Xinhua says that 190,000 people in one county in the Chongqing municipality in southwest China face water shortages because of a lack of rain for four months. Ponds and wells are said to have dried up. Light rain is in the forecast for the area for the next few days but it is unlikely to be sufficient to break the drought.
Unlike the North China Plain where drought is posing a serious threat to China’s grain harvest, the Sichuan basin is more a producer of livestock, milk, poultry, eggs and vegetables. Chongqing municipality and Sichuan, from which it was carved out in 1997, account for 10% of national meat production and 7% of the country’s eggs. If the drought persists, the risk is to the fodder crops for livestock, which could mean more corn having to be bought, putting further pressure on grain prices. If the dry weather is accompanied by above normal temperatures that will put chickens at risk of death from heat exposure.
More torrential rains are lashing Gansu and southwestern Sichuan, triggering deadly mud- and landslides that have left a further 49 dead and 82 missing across the two provinces. These follow the Aug. 8 disaster in Zhouqu where the death toll is now put at 1,254 with 490 still unaccounted for.
Communications, water and power supplies are being restored in the town as a massive relief effort continues to get supplies to the remote town and other affected areas. One piece of cheer from Zhouqu is that public health officials say they have had no reports of outbreaks of infectious disease so far.
In all. the rains are being blamed for the deaths of more than 2,300 people across the country so far this year with a further 1,200 missing. And. as we have written too often this year, more rain is in the forecast.
More torrential rain in the northwest has triggered renewed deadly landslides in the region and is severely hampering rescue work at Zhouqu (below), where new mudslides have blocked roads making it difficult to bring in supplies and equipment to the remote mountain town while emergency shelters have been flooded.
With 600 still missing in Zhouqu, concerns are increasing among public health officials that undiscovered bodies and dead animals buried under the mud are increasing the risk of disease from contaminated water. The official death toll from last weekend’s inundation of Zhougu is now put at 1,144. Authorities report a further 24 killed elsewhere in Gansu and five further south in Sichuan as a result of the latest landslides.
The debate about the extent to which these are natural or man-made disasters is growing. The latest landslides occurred in regions where there has been extensive illegal logging on mountains already unstable because of the construction of small hydroelectric dams, mining and road building, and weakened further by the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. “The tragedy in Zhouqu is a reflection of the challenges and risks economic growth brings to poor regions,” Li Yan, a campaigner for Greenpeace China, told the French news agency.”Local governments are under pressure to alleviate poverty and develop the economy. In that process, there is environmental damage and degradation.”
Shipping on the Yalu River (above, looking towards North Korea), which marks China’s border with its reclusive neighbor, has been suspended following more torrential rain that has swollen the river to critical levels, and prompted fears of further devastating flooding on both sides of the border. More than 40,000 residents from Dandong at the mouth of the river in Liaoning have been evacuated to higher ground. The Tumen River, which borders North Korea in Jilin, where flooding has already killed at least 74 people and affected 4 million, is similarly swollen, with another round of heavy rain expected imminently.
Red Cross workers in North Korea have reported heavy damage by floods in the east of the country, with buildings, bridges and roads destroyed. North Korean state media reported earlier this week that widespread damage had been caused by this summer’s exceptionally heavy rains that are falling across Asia, with 36,700 acres (14,850 hectares) of farmland destroyed. Flooding in North Korea in 2006 and again in 2007 brought on by torrential rains caused extensive loss of life and damage, particularly to farmland, and raised the prospect of widespread food shortages and a repeat of the famine of the mid-1990s that is said to have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.
The latest official figures put China’s death toll from flood-triggered disasters across the country so far this year at more than 1,450 with another 669 missing. More than 2 million hectares of farmland have been destroyed and 13.5 million hectares of crops damaged. Nearly 1.4 million houses have been destroyed. The total economic loss is now put at more than 275 billion yuan ($40.6 billion), according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Beijing has allocated 195 million yuan for relief work to local governments in the five provinces worst-hit by the rains and typhoons, Jilin, Guangdong, Sichuan, Shaanxi and Guangxi Zhuang.