Amid bursting coal mines and trembling quakes, it is easy to forget that southwestern China is still suffering from a serious and prolonged drought that started in the autumn of 2009. While more than 14 million people have been affected across the region, nowhere is the situation more serious than in Yunnan, China’s eighth largest province and where the photograph to the left was taken in September. More than 2.3 million people and 1.3 million head of cattle there are now having trouble finding drinking water, provincial vice-governor Kong Chuizhu said earlier this month.
Rainfall in the province this year has been the lowest on record at 841 millimeters as of November 3rd, and 20% below last year’s average level, itself an unusually dry year. Water levels in Yunnan’s ponds and reservoirs are at their lowest for 17 years. Some 821,000 hectares–around a twelfth of the province’s farmland–has become arid with 60,000 hectares so parched it is not expected to yield a crop next season. Yunnan grows rice, wheat and other grains as cash crops and is China’s leading sugar producing province, along with neighboring Guangxi Zhuang. Agriculture is Yunnan’s most important economic activity, with an estimated 80-95% of the labor force working on the land in farming that is highly intensive as so much of the province is mountainous and forested.