Tag Archives: Guizhou

A Drier China Adds To Economy’s Woes

Officials check rice damage caused by drought in Guizhou Province, August 24, 2022. Photo credit: Xinhua/Yang Wenbin

GLANCING BACK THROUGH the archives, this Bystander came across a more-than-a-decade-old post about China’s water insecurity.

The problem persists. The unprecedented scale of this year’s heatwave and drought — phenomena that will likely be recurring as they are climate-change induced — has only exacerbated it. The consequences will have high economic costs, including some of the second-order ones.

It is not an exaggeration to suggest that water shortages due to climate change are now one of the most serious threats to an economy that looks increasingly beset by structural challenges.

Droughts — and flooding — are annual events, but climate change is making them more severe and longer-lasting. That also gives foreign companies one more reason to source their raw materials, components and finished goods from elsewhere, threatening the maintenance of China’s central role in international manufacturing supply chains.

One reason that water shortages are so difficult to tackle is the uneven geographical distribution of the country’s water resources. Northern China has sparse natural water flows compared to southern China and to the requirements of its dense population and industrial concentration.

Urbanisation has caused water tables throughout northern China to fall fast, drying up irrigation wells for farmers. Poorly regulated industrialisation has worsened the problem by polluting surface and underground water reserves.

Southern China is expected to provide net water transfers to the north and other parts of the country through the South-North Water Transfer Project, a massive three-canal engineering project to divert Yangtze waters to the arid north.

However, the heatwave and drought that occurred from June to August were centred in the south, and persistently drier conditions will raise further doubts about southern China’s capacity to compensate for the north’s structural water deficit.

Economic disruption

They also imply adverse impacts in various sectors of the economy.

Monsoonal rainfall patterns usually mean that the upper Yangtze basin receives half its annual rainfall in July and August. However, during the heatwave, water levels in the Yangtze river dropped to their lowest since records began in 1865. Hydropower generation along the river fell, causing electricity rationing that interrupted industrial production. Shipping using the country’s longest watercourse, a major transportation artery, was disrupted, causing some factories downstream to close temporarily because of the non-arrival of raw materials or parts.

China’s southern and south-western provinces also export hydroelectricity to the eastern seaboard. In mid-August, Sichuan province, which relies on hydropower for 80% of its energy usage, saw its hydropower generation capacity fall by half. The provincial government there, too, required factories to ration power usage, leading to reduced production, which fed into global supply chains.

A second-order consequence is that the drier conditions will also undermine the ‘Eastern Data and Western Computing’ plan to boost the economically lagging western provinces by locating power- (and water-) hungry data centres there that will serve digital activity in the more developed eastern provinces.

The rationale for setting up data centres in poor, western provinces like Guizhou is that mountain rivers can produce hydropower to generate electricity and the mountains also provide a cool climate to help bring down the cost of cooling, one of the largest expenses for data centres. Those conditions no longer look assured.


Agricultural impacts will likely be significant. According to state media, the summer drought wilted hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops, probably millions.

China is a net food importer, and the government prioritises increased domestic production. Harsher farming conditions will make it more difficult to achieve food self-sufficiency. China will thus remain a significant buyer and price-setter in global food markets as climate change aggravates agricultural problems worldwide.

Beijing has few means to ameliorate persistent nationwide water deficits. The agriculture ministry advised local officials during the drought to increase efforts to ensure adequate irrigation water, open new water sources, rotate irrigation and produce artificial rainfall when necessary.

Inducing rainfall by cloud-seeding can provide local relief (providing there are some clouds to seed) but is not a systemic solution to chronic annual heatwaves and drought. Exhortations to open up new water sources are empty words when rivers and lakes are drying up.

China will double down on investing in renewable energy technologies, increasing its influence in these industries globally. Yet, less hydropower may also sustain the continued construction of coal- and oil and gas-fired power plants, reinforcing climate change effects.

Cross-border disputes

Internationally, the reliance of South and Southeast Asian countries on river water originating upstream in China means that chronic droughts in China may inflame international tensions.

China has a poor record of addressing its neighbours’ concerns about upstream dams affecting water levels in the Mekong, Salween, Ganges and Yamuna rivers.

As India’s industrial activity grows, including power-hungry sectors such as semiconductor manufacturing, management of shared rivers is likely to add to tensions with China over disputed territory.

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Rains Bring Scant Relief To Drought In Southwest China

A villager takes water at an almost dried out reservoir in Haila Township of Weining County, southwest China's Guizhou Province, May 20, 2012. Southeast regions of Guizhou are hit by rainstorm and flood while northwest of the porvince are still stranded in drought, which has lingered in the areas for about half a year. A total of 29,763 people and 1,600 hectares farmland in Haila Township have been affected by the drought, according to the local government. (Xinhua/Yang Wenbin)

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.

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No Let Up To Southwestern China’s Drought

 Zhao Qingde, a local villager, collects water to feed cattle from a reservoir which is drying up at drought-affected Ayulin Village of Shilin Yi Autonomous County, southwest China's Yunnan Province, Sept. 7, 2011. Lingering drought has affected 16,987 hectares, or nearly 70 percent of the total area, of crops throughout the county.

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.


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Southwestern China’s Drought Intensifies

Wang Jun, an official in charge of local water management, shows the dried-up reservoir at Luliang County in Qujing City, southwest China's Yunnan Province, Aug. 23, 2011. The city is suffering the worst summer drought since records began in 1961. There is no let up in the drought parching southwestern China that has left at least 12 million people short of water across Yunan (seen above), Guizhou, Hunan, Sichuan and Chongqing. State media report that emergency response teams have now been dispatched to Sichuan, as they were to Guizhou and Yunnan earlier.

In Sichuan more than 2 million people now face water shortages, up from the 1.7 million reported earlier in the week. More than 1.2 million head of livestock are short of water and 70,000 hectares of crops in the province have been ruined. In Guizhou, 5.5 million people are reported short of water, and 2.8 million livestock. The drought conditions started in July and there is no sign of any break in the high temperatures that have persisted since. Reservoirs and rivers have shriveled or dried up, as has the reservoir at Qujing City in Yunnan shown in the photograph above taken on Aug. 23.

In all, across the four provinces and the municipality of Chongqing, 5.9 million hectares of crops have been affected. Earlier in the week, the National Bureau of Statistics said that the country’s early season rice harvest was 4.5% higher than last year’s despite the parched conditions in the southwest. Harvested acreage was down by 0.8%, the bureau noted.


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Drought In Southwestern China Intensifies

A housewife wash clothes at the dried-up Dongjin Reservior in Huangzhulin Village of Zhaotong City, southwest China's Yunnan Province, Aug. 23, 2011. A lingering drought has withered up almost 220,000 hectares of crops and dried up 15 rivers in Zhaotong, leaving at least 190,000 people and 28,000 livestock short of drinking water.

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.

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Heatwave And Drought Parch Southwest China

Severe drought continues in southwest China. Temperatures have hit 40℃ in Chongqing with rivers and reservoirs drying up. The heat and lack of rain is expected to persist over the next week in Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan and Jiangxi. More than 2 million people in Guizhou alone are short of drinking water. Some 760,000 head of livestock are also short of water, while more than 1 million hectares of crops have been affected. In all, 6 million head of livestock and 6.9 million people are short of water across the Southwest. Almost 4.7 million hectares of arable land have been affected. However, officials say the effect on the grain harvest will be less damaging than in other years.

Meanwhile, heavy rainstorms, floods and landslides have hit 61 cities in the north and east of the country, causing at least 10 deaths.


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China’s Deadly Lightening

Flashes of lightning shoot across the sky in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, on the night of Tuesday August 26, 2008.

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.

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Flooding Death Toll Passes 100

The death toll from the flooding along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river has now passed 100. State media report that as of Monday morning 105 people are dead and 63 are missing since June 3 when the drought-breaking summer rains began. Hunan is worst affected with 39 dead, 19 in one mudslide, followed by Hubei with 29, Guizhou with 24 and Jiangxi at 13. Flood relief operations are now being conducted across 11 provinces, with more torrential rain expected over the next three days. The economic cost of the floods, including destroyed farmland, is put at 8.7 billion yuan ($1.3 billion).

Meanwhile, the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters say that 1.9 million hectares of farmland remain affected by drought, half the area at the peak. More than one million people are still short of drinking water, down from nearly 4 million at one point.

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Southern China’s Floods Spread, Death Toll Rises

The death toll caused by flooding in southern and central China has risen to more than 100 with at least 40 missing. The latest deaths include 25 in Hubei and 19 in Hunan, where the photograph above was taken, after waters breached river and reservoir embankments and then destroyed homes.

In all, more than 50 people are known to be dead across the four drought-hit provinces along the Yangtze that have suffered the worst flash flooding. Officials at the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters say more than 7,000 homes have been washed away and 255,000 hectares of farmland submerged. Economic losses so far are put at 5 billion yuan ($760 million).

The recent heavy rains are breaking the worst drought in 60 years in the lower and middle reaches of the Yangtze river, as they did earlier in Guizhou, where 50 are now reported to have died as the result of flooding there. Officials say that the combined economic cost of the floods and drought is 23 billion yuan. Some 617,600 hectares of farmland have been parched, with 12,600 hectares left unusable.

More heavy summer rains are in the forecast while tropical storm Sarika is expected make landfall along the Guangdong and Fujian coasts over the weekend.

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Death Toll Mounts In Southern China Floods

The death toll has reportedly risen to 21 with at least 35 missing (Update: 24 dead and at least 30 missing) as a result of the flash floods that have followed the heavy rainfall that has broken the drought in southern China and along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze. Guizhou has been worst hit with 45,000 residents of Wangmo County being forced to evacuate. Twenty one of the dead are from Guizhou, and three from Jiangsu. The photograph above was taken in Wangmo Country on June 6.

Power and communications links are down in several towns, local officials say, with some roads and bridges being washed away. In all 270,000 people in Guizhou have been affected by the floods. More heavy rain is in the forecast for the south, though a heat wave is expected in the north and east.

The Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters says that the rains have relieved more than 1 million people from water shortages but 2.1 million remain short of drinking water.  As of Monday, the total area of parched farmland had shrunk by 1.5 million hectares to 2.3 million hectares.

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