BACK IN 2009, this Bystander alighted on a press report that China spent $100 million a year on cloud-seeding to induce rain and snowfall to combat drought.
That was more than six times the figure quoted for the United States. China frequently resorts to using anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers to blast the sky with silver iodide, reportedly resorting to this way to make rain more often than any other country.
In the past, most cloud seeding occurred in the increasingly arid North China Plain. Now it is being deployed in parts of central and southwest China amid a severe drought and a two-month-long heatwave that the National Climate Centre says is the country’s longest and strongest since records were first kept in the early 1960s.
However, Hubei and several other provinces along the drought-stricken Yangtze river, now at record low levels following less than half the usual rainfall in some stretches, have run into a familiar problem with the technique: you need the clouds to seed in the first place. They are in short supply in a heatwave.
Upstream in Sichuan, the mercury has risen above 40 degrees Celsius with no immediate relief in sight. With water levels in hydropower reservoirs down by as much as half and demand for air conditioning rising, power shortages of up to several hours are widespread.
Electrical blackouts as authorities ration power are affecting industrial production. Emergency measures instituted to ensure households get priority for what power is available are forcing factories to cut back output or stop work altogether.
Foxconn’s factory in Chengdu, which makes Apple’s iPads, is one business amid a six-day shut down because of power rationing.
The overall impact on the economy of drought-induced temporary factory shutdowns will likely be minimal, but it is another drag on an already decelerating economy.
A longer-term concern may be the loss of crops for the autumn harvest, which could drive up inflation. The Ministry of Water Resources has said that the drought has affected 821,333 hectares of farmland in Sichuan, Chongqing, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi and Anhui.
Only half the usual annual release of water from the Three Gorges reservoir to relieve drought downstream has been possible this year. Many rivers and streams that flow into the Yangtse and are a source of agricultural irrigation are reported to have dried up.
Meanwhile, at the mouth of the river, Shanghai hit a sweltering 40.9 degrees Celsius in July, equalling its hottest day since the city started keeping records in 1873.
Meteorologists predict that the long-lasting heat wave will become the ‘new normal’ due to climate change.
This will force authorities to pay more attention to the inadequacies of the country’s national power grid, as evidenced by Vice Premier Han Zheng, who, on a visit to the State Grid Corporation of China this week, highlighted the importance of the energy and power supply for social and economic stability.