Unprecedented drought hits South China

The National Meteorological Center issued its first red temperature alert on August 12.

Photo from CFP

Photo from CFP



In CHEN Ping’s orange grove on the outskirts of his hometown Yichang in Hubei Province, hard green oranges, yet to ripen, hang on the branches of all the trees. They need water desperately, but Yichang has not seen a drop of rain for more than 20 days. The weather began sizzling in June and shows no sign of cooling off.

“The oranges won’t be as juicy as before,” Chen lamented. 

Not far from the grove, Chen’s parents’ rice field is cracked open so wide that one can stick a finger into the dried-out earth. Chen borrowed a water pump to help his parents, but the water evaporated overnight. Yichang government said agricultural products worth 240 million yuan (US$35.33 million) have withered in the fields.

The National Meteorological Center issued its first red temperature alert on August 12. For the next ten days at least, the heat will continue along the Yangtze. Since July, precipitation has been the lowest since 1961.

“This year’s drought is unprecedented,” said ZHANG Qi of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “A good number of observation sites reported record-highs, and the drought not only harms the environment but affects shipping,” Zhang said. 

The lower reaches of the Yangtze are densely populated with strong economies and the drought also threatens hydropower stations. Those in Sichuan generate more than 20 percent of China’s hydroelectricity. Since August, 100 hydro stations in the province have seen their operations reduced or stopped, bringing power cuts. Several provinces have taken action to limit power use so residents do not have blackouts at noon.

Zhang said that since 2000, the capacity of the river has declined. Big lakes like Dongting and Poyang are shrinking, partly due to climate change and partly because of human activities.

“In the long run, we must find new water sources and restore our rivers and lakes,” he said.