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.
The death toll from rain-triggered floods and landslides in central China has risen to 70 with 32 others missing, officials now say. The National Disaster Reduction Commission says more than 21 million people across eight provinces are now affected by the unusually late and heavy summer monsoon rains deluging Sichuan, Shaanxi, Henan, Chongqing, Hubei, Shandong, Shanxi and Gansu. Direct economic damages are put at an estimated 26 billion yuan ($4 billion). Hubei, Shaanxi and Sichuan have borne the brunt of it.
In the worst incident, a landslide that buried a brick factory and partially destroyed as ceramics plant in Baqiao, a suburb of Shaanxi’s provincial capital, Xian, 27 people are now reported dead with a further five missing. Rescue teams continue to recover bodies. (Update: The final death toll has been confirmed at 32 with the recovery of the last missing body on Tuesday, four days after the landslide.)
Meanwhile, the highest flood crest so far this year on the rain-swollen Yangtze river reached the Three Gorges Dam on Wednesday morning, raising the water level to 164 meters, 20 meters above the alert level.
When we first read a headline on the BBC site about arrests over melamine tainted milk we thought we were reading a two-year old web page. But, no, it is dated today and reports the arrests of seven people at a dairy in Shanxi including the general manager for adding the toxic industrial chemical to milk powder. Twenty-six tones of the tainted product from the dairy had been distributed in Hunan and Henan.
New rules on food safety were put in place after the 2008 melamine tainted infant formula scandal which killed six children, made more than 300,000 sick and led to a worldwide recall of dairy products from China. What is unclear at this point is whether this latest incident represents a legacy case involving old powder that should have been destroyed after the 2008 scandal — Sanlu, the company at the heart of the original scandal, had stocks of more than 2,000 tonnes that were sealed before it went bankrupt and some of it has been turning up occasionally — or whether old habits are dying hard.
Addendum: We are reminded that in July authorities in Qinghai seized 64 tonnes of melamine-adulterated milk powder at a dairy there following the discovery of tainted formula in Gansu. More than half the seized volume had come from Hebei, suggesting it was from stocks that should have been destroyed but had not.