Despite heavy seasonal rains causing floods and havoc across southern China, the north and parts of the center of the country still face severe drought. Officials have warned that crops are at risk on the North China Plain between the Yellow and Huai rivers. More than 4 million people across eight provinces are short of drinking water. The lack of rain extends to the Korean peninsula across the Yellow Sea. The Associated Press reports that North Korea is facing its most extreme drought since records were first kept more than a century ago, threatening already tenuous food supplies.
Tag Archives: Arid China
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.
State media has published a new set pictures of the lingering drought in Yunnan. Now into its third year, it has touched nearly 8 million people and become part of daily life, as the photograph above, taken in a village in Shilin County, shows. More than 3 million people are short of drinking water. Water levels in reservoirs in some parts of the province are at their lowest in a decade. The photo below shows a reservoir in Shilin County that has dried out completely. Crops on more than 130,000 hectares of farmland have withered. A significant emergency relief effort is underway across the province.
Last month, officials said that more than 3 million people across the country were short of drinking water because of drought. After Yunnan, the most serious drought is in Inner Mongolia. Gansu and Hubei have also been affected.
Meanwhile, a forest wildfire on the outskirts of Yunnan’s provincial capital, Kunming, that raged for two days at the beginning of the week before being brought under control has flared up again. Update: It has since been brought under control (pictures via Xinhua) but a second forest fire in the region has taken hold. Yunnan is China’s second most heavily forested province.
Pumping water from the deep aquifer below the increasingly arid North China Plain has a hidden cost beyond the depletion of irreplaceable water resources, a new joint UK-China study reveals. Farmers are now pumping so much irrigation water from such deep levels, up to 70 meters-80 meters below ground in some provinces, that the energy required to drill the wells and run the diesel pumps accounts for more than half a percent of China’s total greenhouse-gas emissions.
Overall, farming accounts for 17–20% of China’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions, the study’s authors say. Pumping water for irrigation is one of farmers’ most energy intensive activities. The study, conducted by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the U.K.’s University of East Anglia, claims to be the first detailed estimate of greenhouse-gas emissions from groundwater pumping for irrigation. The authors say its shows that “significant potential exists to promote the co-benefits of water and energy saving in order to meet national planning targets”.
The scale of the challenge of realizing those benefits is that the current five-year plan aims to increase irrigation water use efficiency by 3% by 2015, emphasizing the importance of improving groundwater resource management to control over-exploitation. However, this is to be achieved whilst increasing total grain production by 13% to 450 million tonnes and decreasing national energy consumption per unit of GDP by 16%.
Emergency funds of 500 million yuan ($80 million) are being allocated for drought-relief in Yunnan, the finance ministry says. This follows the announcement earlier this month of 120 million yuan in relief assistance from central government on top of the 180 million yuan earmarked by the provincial government.
A three-year long drought that has worsened significantly since December has left 3.2 million people short of water. In recent days, more than 1,000 armed police have been deployed to deliver emergency supplies and build water storage facilities in the 15 prefectures in the province worst hit.
The photograph of a dried-out pond, above, was taken on February 24th in Malong county. There are other recent photographs here. The lack of rainfall has dried up more than 270 rivers and 410 small reservoirs, officials say. It is also putting at risk for fire more than 130,000 hectares of forests and more than four times as much cropland. Direct economic losses from the drought are estimated to have already topped 2 billion yuan.
So serious has the depletion of China’s groundwater become as a result of industrialization and urbanization that the country’s large cities are sinking, as, potentially, are the high-speed rail corridors between them. So concerning is that to authorities that the State Council has made areas with high-speed rail links a priority in a new land subsidence research project it has approved to be completed by 2015. In the order of these things, that is a crash deadline.
The survey is one of four projects that the Ministry of Land and Resources said this week that the State Council had ratified to combat the effects of China’s growing water shortage. Others include yet more controls on pumping underground water, and the setting up of monitoring networks in the worst affected areas–the Yangtze river delta, the North China Plain and the Fen and Hua river basins. The network is to be in place by 2020.
It didn’t take any technology to see the 8 meter crack that opened up earlier this month in a road near the Shanghai World Financial Center. (There are some pictures here.) That is despite authorities taking preventive measures since 2005 to combat ground subsidence caused by falling water tables. Municipal officials say the city is still sinking by seven millimeters a year. That is a better state of affairs than in the past, however. Shanghai used to be sinking by several centimeters a year.
A third of China’s water reserves lie in underground aquifers. They supply 70% of the country’s drinking water and 40% of its farm irrigation needs. They are being stretched to their limits, particularly across the grain belt of the North China Plain as evermore wells are sunk to draw water for city dwellers and industry. Underground water pollution is a separate concern, but as serious.
Shanghai is one of more than 50 large cities with a similar Venice-like problem of subsidence because the water table below it is sinking. Beijing, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Xian are among others. As the number of 50 cities has been quoted since at least 2006, we suspect it may undercount the problem today. In a paper the China Geological Survey published that year the direct economic cost of subsidence was put at 1 billion yuan ($160 million) a year. It will likely top that now.
Tianjin, which like Shanghai has been sinking since the 1920s although it wasn’t until the 1960s that it was understood why, shows why widespread limits on groundwater pumping are so urgent, and also how difficult it is to control subsidence. The city introduced restrictions as long ago as 1985. Its sinking has slowed from 80 millimeters a year then but is still dropping 20 millimeters a year now. Coastal cities share another characteristic with Venice. Floods are becoming more frequent and severe. The lower cities sink the more susceptible they are to them.
We have noted before the potential explosive social costs of a water crisis getting beyond the government’s control. It will take a comprehensive program of water conservation, better water resource management and better husbandry of the ecosystem. And there are plans on all those fronts. But if they fail, it will be more than a high-speed train or two that comes off the rails.