Authorities are now describing the lingering drought in central and southern China as the worst in half a century. Water levels along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river and its tributaries in Jiangxi, Hunan and Hubei are 10%-70% lower than average. Rainfall in the provinces has been its lowest since 1961 and 40%-60% below average.
Downstream, the Yangtze delta is home to 400 million people and 40% of the country’s economic activity. Last week, increased volumes of water were released from the Three Gorges Dam to help ease the situation and cloud seeding operations to create rain were undertaken over the weekend.
The Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters says that more than 6 million hectares of farm land, in an important grain and cotton growing region, have been left short of water, at a critical time. In Hubei, more than 1 million hectares of farmland, including 200,000 hectares planted to early season rice, are short of water, with levels in more than 1,300 reservoirs dropping below the minimum needed to discharge for irrigation. Farmers are having to pump expensively from cities. Much of the spring crop is at risk or lost. Fears rising for the summer planting season, though their is rain in the forecast and meteorologists expect normal rainfall during the rainy season in the Yangtze’s watershed.
With drought also affecting grain-growing regions of Russia, the U.S. and France, the International Grains Council has revised down its forecast for global wheat production for the growing year by 1 million tonnes. That could add pressure to world prices, and make domestic inflation even more persistent. The drought is also affecting hydroelectricity production in China, worsening the spreading power shortages in some provinces.
Update: State media report that Beijing has sent special work teams to central Hunan and Hubei to direct local drought relief work, and ordered local authorities to provide financial support for local farmers whose incomes from crops and livestock have been reduced by the drought.