China issues first national drought alert and struggles to save crops | News about the climate crisis

China has issued its first national drought alert of the year as authorities battle wildfires and mobilize specialist teams to protect crops from scorching temperatures in the Yangtze River basin.

The China National Meteorological Center also renewed its high-temperature red alert on Friday, the 30th consecutive day it has issued alerts, it said on its Weibo channel. State forecasters now predicted that the current heat wave hitting China would only start to abate on August 26.

The national drought “yellow alert,” issued late Thursday, comes after regions from Sichuan in the southwest to Shanghai in the Yangtze Delta have experienced weeks of extreme heat, with government officials repeatedly citing global climate change. as the cause.

The yellow alert is two points below the most serious warning on the Beijing scale.

In one of the Yangtze’s major flood basins in central China’s Jiangxi province, Poyang Lake has now shrunk to a quarter of its normal size for this time of year, state news agency Xinhua reported. .

As many as 66 rivers in 34 counties in the southwestern Chongqing region have dried up, state broadcaster CCTV said on Friday.

Rainfall in Chongqing this year is down 60 percent compared to the seasonal norm, and soil in several districts is severely lacking in moisture, CCTV said, citing local government data.

Beibei County, north of Chongqing’s urban center, saw temperatures reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday, according to China’s meteorological bureau.

Chongqing accounted for six of the 10 hottest places in the country on Friday morning, with temperatures in Bishan district already approaching 39C (102F). Shanghai was already at 37C (98F).

Infrastructure and emergency services in the Chongqing region have come under increasing pressure, with firefighters on high alert as mountains and forests erupted in flames across the region. State media also reported an increase in heatstroke cases.

A gas utility company in Fuling district told customers on Friday it would cut off supplies until further notice as it faces “serious security risks.” The Chongqing agriculture bureau has also set up expert teams to protect vulnerable crops and expand planting to make up for losses ahead of the autumn harvest.

China’s Ministry of Water Resources has instructed drought-affected farming regions to draw up shifts to determine who can access supplies at a given time, to ensure they don’t run out.

Factories in Sichuan and the adjacent metropolis of Chongqing were also ordered closed after reservoirs supplying hydroelectric power fell to half their normal levels and demand for air conditioning rose due to scorching temperatures.

The impact of the drought in Sichuan is unusually severe because the province gets 80 percent of its power from hydroelectric dams.

Most affected areas

Al Jazeera’s Patrick Fok, reporting from Chongqing, said the area is one of the worst hit by China’s heat wave and where temperatures reached an all-time high of 45C (113F) earlier this week.

“It’s hard to escape the effects of this heat wave and the accompanying drought,” Fok said. “Reports say that more than 350,000 people in rural Chongqing are suffering due to shortage of water supplies.”

Commenting on the threat to the Chinese economy from drought, David Mahon, a political economist and founder of Mahon China, said that water scarcity is a “major short-term problem.”

“It is going to have a considerable impact in the short term because it comes on top of a zero COVID policy which, for most of this year, has meant that much economic activity has slowed down,” Mahon told Al Jazeera from Beijing. . .

“But China is moving pretty quickly,” he said.

“When it comes to solving a problem and acting on something, you can often go much faster than other political cultures. So I think in the situation that they’re facing, we’ll see, as we go into next year, a number of remedies, certainly a diversification of energy sources. But right now it is very, very difficult for the residents of many provinces and cities.”

According to data from China’s Emergencies Ministry, high temperatures in July alone caused direct economic losses of 2.73 billion yuan ($400 million), affecting 5.5 million people.

The national meteorological agency said in its daily bulletin on Friday that 4.5 million square kilometers of the national territory experienced temperatures of 35 °C (95 °F) or more during the past month, almost half of the country’s total area, with more than 200 weather stations recording records. tall

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