China’s 2011 drought


A dried-up section of the Yellow River in Henan Province. [File Photo: China News Service]


May 1, 2011

Touring the Heartland of China’s Drought


by Tom Mcgregor

China is facing one of the worst droughts in the past 60 years, which poses a grave danger to domestic food prices, environmental conditions and the overall livelihood of the nation. Our reporter has just taken a brief tour of China’s agricultural heartland and observed first-hand the devastation of the drought.

Let’s first take a high-speed train from Beijing to Zhengzhou, which is a five hour trip at a distance of approximately 670 kilometers directly south of the nation’s capital Beijing. Zhengzhou is the administrative capital of Henan Province. It appears like most other Chinese cities with numerous buildings, bustling streets and surrounded by shops of all kinds.

But water shortage is already affecting the metropolis. Water from a shower, in at least one hotel, trickles sparingly and cuts off within a minute or two and the water from sinks did not flow freely either. Nevertheless, one could observe large-scale construction projects of buildings and roads on the outskirts of Zhengzhou, which makes a person ponder if there will be enough water for locals with so much expansion.

After visiting the city, I took an 11-hour bus trip from Zhengzhou to Beijing, beginning at 2 p.m. on Friday. Traffic congestion stood at a mere standstill during a regular afternoon weekday, which took the bus more than an hour to drive out of the city. In the meantime, a sandstorm, although not severe, had blown into the area.

Although the sandstorm was slight, it may be a harbinger of what could be much worse to come, since sandstorms that sweep across central China each year usually occur around late March and early April. For one to strike so early, which is coincided with a drought, could mean more dreadful sandstorms may blow across the country in the near future.

Meanwhile, China’s heartland is rising out of a winter with little snowfall, but cold temperatures prevailed. Still, no significant rainfall has been forecasted for the immediate future. Some weather experts fear this spring will be just as dry as the past winter. The scenery already looks more like a desert than a good place for crops to grow in abundance.

During the bus tour, the air was dry, but with seasonably cool temperatures. Some farms were growing crops, but only due to farmers utilizing rigorous irrigation methods. If the drought continues unabated, even irrigation would not be sufficient. The only green pastures observed on the entire bus trip from Zhengzhou to Beijing could bee seen at these particular farms.

Elsewhere, a vast arid desert surrounded crop fields. It should be noted that this is not the desert region of China, but an area similar to the Midwest section of the United States. Hence, to observe sand dunes and a land largely-parched by dust reveals just how terrible the drought is ravaging the region.

I witnessed, in an isolated place about 430 kilometers south of Beijing, a truck delivering goods that was caught in a raging inferno. The truck driver stood there motionless while pedestrians on the scene were observed acting in a similar manner. Nevertheless, nothing could be done, since no water was available to douse the flames. In a case of morbid curiosity, passengers of the bus, ordinary Chinese citizens, were seen pulling out their cell phones to take pictures of the truck ablaze in a ‘sea of fire,’ as the bus drove by.

Yet, the truck in flames raises other concerns. Much of China is rural and isolated, but during this drought, wildfires would become inevitable. But, what would happen if these wildfires spread and no water is available in the vicinity? What effective strategy is set in place to contend with this catastrophe?

Certainly, a severe drought can cause significant harm to a country. Yet, proper planning, an ability to adapt and respond appropriately to the crisis can lessen the impact. What would be the ultimate consequences of this severe drought? Well, that remains to be seen.






A Must-Read Report !


A farmer shovels soil for irrigating a wheat field on the outskirts in northern China


1 March 2011 Last updated at 05:24 ET

China drought worsens in parched north

Damian  Grammaticas By Damian Grammaticas BBC News, Shandong province


Across northern China swathes of land are dry, parched by drought.

In some areas these are the driest conditions in a lifetime. Snowfalls in recent days have helped a little, but still, across huge areas of land, water is in short supply.

The countryside is dotted with empty dams. Standing on top of one, near Qufu in Shandong Province, you can see just a tiny muddy pool in the centre of a dam that is hundreds of metres long.

Sitting rusting on the earth is a small boat. Along the dry dam floor people have been planting rows of crops because it has been like this for so long.

Li Si Jiao, 77, his back stooped with age, shuffles slowly along a path on top of the dam. His face is weathered and creased with lines. He gestures at the dam and says the water used to stretch all the way to the village in the distance, but no more.

This is China’s breadbasket, the heart of its grain growing lands, and all around are Shandong’s wheat fields. They are full of lines of seedlings, sprouting from the ground, but wilting and yellowing.

A grey, polluted haze hangs in the air. Every few hundred yards small groups of men and women are working to try to save their crops from the drought.

China is the world’s biggest grower and consumer of wheat. In normal years it is self-sufficient. But if it has to import grain this year then that will have an impact far afield.

Already just the warnings of a possible shortfall in China’s crop have put pressure on global wheat prices.

Emergency measures

As we approach one group of farmers they crank an old engine into life. It sputters, and then water spurts out from a thick pipe dangling down an open well perhaps 20m (65ft) deep.

The well belongs to Liu De Xu and his wife Wang Li Jun. They are sharing the water with their neighbours and it has to be rationed. Yesterday it was Liu De Xu’s turn to water his tiny patch of land, about 10m wide and 50m long, where his wheat is planted. Today it is his neighbour’s turn.

A withered wheat plant is seen in a dry field
Warnings of a possible shortfall in China’s crop have put pressure on global wheat prices

Mr Liu and his wife are now desperate to prevent their seedlings from dying.

He has a metal contraption slung over his shoulder. Walking behind him, she guides it as it tears at the ground and spreads fertiliser to keep the crop growing. It is hard, manual labour, and Mr Liu puffs and strains as he marches along.

Then his wife grabs some of the wheat plants and runs over to me. “Look,” she says, “they are all like this.”

The tiny shoots are no more than a few centimetres long, but half of them are already shrivelled and drying.

“We need a solution to this problem, if there is not enough rain we’ll all have to abandon the fields and go to the towns to find work.”

To stop that happening China’s government is spending $1bn (£600m) on emergency measures to fight the drought. In practice that means digging wells, and lots of them.

We find a team with a giant rig they have constructed in a field. Four men in blue overalls and red hard hats haul giant metal pipes into place, then drill down.

It will take them several days to dig. But the foreman tells me that this is only a temporary measure, only more rain can solve the basic problem of the drought.

The last well the team completed two days ago produced water for just a few minutes, then nothing more came out.

Deep under the earth China’s water, on its arid northern plain, is slowly running out. It is a massive problem and China is only just starting to face up to it.

Long-term problems

Some 200 million people live across the north China plain. It is home to giant cities like Beijing and Tianjin which are expanding fast. But the area has water resources comparable to a desert country and every year as the population swells the water stress grows worse.

China’s industries are inefficient, they consume far more water than those in developed countries. The country’s construction boom means water use is even more intensive.

Many of the rivers in the north have dried up. Dams have blocked their normal flow, the water diverted to towns, farms and factories.

The northern megacities now rely on underground water sources for two-thirds of their needs. But the aquifers beneath places like Beijing are being drained, sinking as they are used faster than the rain can replenish them. Some fear the water could be gone in 30 years in places.

Ma Jun is one of China’s most prominent environmentalists. Over a decade ago he wrote a book titled China’s Water Crisis.

As we walk along one of Beijing’s dirty canals he tells me: “In China two-thirds of our cities are short of water.

Shifting water

“But the north China plain, where many of our biggest cities and industries are found, and which is China’s breadbasket, is where our water is in shortest supply. So this drought now is making our long-term problems worse.”

The biggest fear of all is that China, now an engine for the global economy, could find that lack of water constrains its future growth.

“There is a growing understanding,” Ma Jun says, “that we need to change, that our mode of growth is not sustainable. The harsh reality is that there is simply not enough water.”

The country does have huge quantities of water, but they lie far to the south, in the massive rivers that run from west to east, 1,000km away from Beijing and the cities of the north.

So China is pressing ahead with one of the world’s biggest engineering schemes to shift the water northwards.

Fond of massive schemes, the country’s Communist Party leaders are building the North-South water project, a giant series of canals and pipes to carry water from the Yangtze and Yellow rivers to Beijing. The cost of the project is a staggering $60bn (£36.8bn).

Standing on a giant crane looking down on one of the North-South construction sites you can see hundreds of workers welding and cutting iron bars, building huge metal moulds to make sections of concrete pipe.

Each section is around 10m (33ft) high, 8m (26ft) wide and 30m (99ft) long. When complete the North-South project will deliver the equivalent of 50,000 Olympic-size swimming pools full of water to cities in the north each day.

One of the men overseeing the site tells me that it is a great honour to take part in the project, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a construction engineer.

But the scheme can only be a stopgap. The amount of water it will deliver will buy China time to change and, hopefully, become more efficient.

But it won’t be enough to solve the country’s water woes. China’s thirst is just too great, and unless it alters its ways, millions might find one day, that their water could run dry.





China’s drought shows no sign of easing


BEIJING, Feb. 7 (UPI) — A drought described as the worst in 60 years has hit some of the major agriculture regions in China, causing a sharp fall in crop output, officials said.

The drought shows no sign of easing, Xinhua reported.

Some places, like Shandong province, have had only 15 percent of normal rainfall since September.

The report said the situation remains severe in Shandong despite continuing water supply provided by some 4,000 pumping stations. More than 5 million acres of the province’s wheat-growing land has been affected, the report said.

China’s central Henan province has also been hit by the drought, with about 3.5 million acres affected.

In northern Jiangsu province, which normally does not experience such problems, a sharp drop in rainfall is causing crops to wither. Several parts of the province are also facing a drinking water shortage, the report said.

Read more:


Drought threatens China’s wheat crop


BEIJING, Feb. 9 (UPI) — A severe drought in China is threatening the country’s wheat crop and could affect global grain prices, the U.N. food agency warned.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, in a special alert on China, said the drought is “potentially a serious problem.”

The drought, which has been dragging on for four months, has affected 35.1 percent — 15.8 million acres — of China’s wheat crop, China’s Ministry of Agriculture announced this week. FAO said 2.57 million people and 2.79 million head of livestock faced shortages of drinking water.Chinese state-run news said that China’s key agricultural regions were facing their worst drought in 60 years. On Tuesday, Xinhua news agency warned that Shandong province, one of the country’s largest grain producers, was bracing for its worst drought in 200 years. The province has received only 0.47 of an inch of rain since last September.China’s wheat industry accounts for one-sixth of global output. An FAO database shows that in 2009, China produced nearly twice as much of the grain as the United States or Russia and more than five times as much as Australia.The international wheat market has already suffered blows in the past six months due to extreme weather: Russia’s heat wave in August and Australia’s recent floods.As of last summer, China had about 55 million tons of wheat in stockpiles, which amounts to about half the country’s annual harvest, Kisan Gunjal, a FAO food emergency officer for Asia alerts told The New York Times.In the past, China’s self-sufficiency in grain has helped to hold food prices from soaring higher during recent surges in prices. But a poor harvest would force China to import more grain, which could increase world prices, experts say.”China’s grain situation is critical to the rest of the world — if they are forced to go out on the market to procure adequate supplies for their population, it could send huge shock waves through the world’s grain markets,” said Robert S. Zeigler, the director general of the International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos, Philippines told the Times.The national average retail price of wheat flour in China increased by more than 8 percent last month compared to the previous two months and was 16 percent higher than last year.The situation in China could become critical if a spring drought follows the current drought and the temperatures in February fall below normal, the FAO report said.

Read more:

April 30, 2011
Drought Hits Parts of South, Central China
   2011-04-30 13:27:22    Xinhua      Web Editor: Jiang

A drought is plaguing parts of central and southern China, impacting grain production and disrupting drinking water supply.

Drinking water supply to more than 20,000 people and thousands of livestock animals have been disrupted in Jingzhou City of central China’s Hubei Province, also a major grain production base, according statistics from the Jingzhou municipal authorities.

The city, which is usually humid in spring, had barely any rainfall since mid-April.

Paddy fields in several counties of Jingzhou have turned dry. “It’s time for irrigation. Without water, the plants will die soon,” said Yang Qing, a farmer in Futian Village of Jinali County in the worst hit area.

The municipal authorities have been discharging water from the reservoirs to help with irrigation. Water volume in the city’s reservoir has dropped to 336 million cubic meters, down 67 percent year on year.

More than 3.3 million hectares of farmland in the province have been impacted by the drought, according to statistics from Hubei’s Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

Drought has also disrupted supply of drinking water to more than 300,000 people in south China’s Fujian Province, according to a statement from the provincial Flood Control and Draught Relief Headquarters.

The province’s rainfall is down 66 percent year on year and the water volume in its rivers has dropped by 43 percent comparing to the same period last year, the statement said.

The drought has also affected 55,300 hectares of farmland in Fujian, it added.

Other provinces affected by drought are Guangdong, Jiangxi and Anhui.

The amount of rainfall in tropical Guangdong Province reached a record low in the past 60 years. Drought has impacted the production of more than 1 million hectares of wheat field in Anhui.

Parts of Jiangxi, Fujian and Guangdong started raining Saturday. The rains may continue for a few days and relieve the drought, according a bulletin on the affiliated to China Meteorological Administration.

However, reports from meteorological stations in Hubei and Anhui showed little signs of improvement in the near future.




May 22, 2011

Central China Hit by Drought, as


Reservoirs Become ‘Dead Water’

By Edward Wong, NY times

Getty Images

A farmer on his dried field last week in Wuhan, China. Crops and drinking water have been threatened by a long drought.

BEIJING — A severe drought along the Yangtze River region in central China has rendered nearly 1,400 reservoirs in Hubei Province temporarily unusable, devastated farm fields and made drinking water scarce, according to a report on Monday by Xinhua, the state news agency.

The drought, which has lasted for five months, has brought water levels in the middle part of the Yangtze to a near-record low. For the second time since the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric project, began operating, officials have had to make emergency water discharges from it to help ease the drought.

As of Sunday, 4 medium-size reservoirs and 1,388 small reservoirs in Hubei had dropped below the allowable discharge levels for irrigation, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing the director of the reservoir management office for the Hubei Provincial Water Resources Department. One-fourth of all small reservoirs had what officials called “dead water” remaining, which could be pumped for use only in an emergency.

The drought adds to concerns over the effect that a gargantuan water-diversion project will have on the central provinces of China. The project, called the South-North Water Diversion, is supposed to move water from the Yangtze and its tributaries north to Beijing along a canal, and to Tianjin along an eastern route.

Both routes are supposed to be fully operational within the next couple of years. Criticism of the project has become widespread, and many people along the Yangtze and in the south say precious water resources should not be sent north, where there has been a chronic water shortage.

The water on the middle route is supposed to flow from the Danjiangkou Reservoir in Hubei. The water level at the reservoir was measured at 443 feet on Saturday, about 13 feet below the level at which the water is considered dead, Xinhua reported.

Du Yun, a geography scholar at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, said in an earlier interview that the central government had not done enough studies to assess the impact of the diversion project, especially when compared with all the research that was done before the building of the Three Gorges Dam.

“For that project, the preliminary discussion and studies phase was decades long,” he said. “There was the participation of institutions and experts from across China. Compared to that, this water diversion project did not do as comprehensive a preliminary study as the Three Gorges project did.”

As of Saturday, the drought had left 315,000 people and 97,300 head of livestock in Hubei short of drinking water, and more than two million acres of farmland had been affected, Xinhua reported. In neighboring Henan Province, the drought had affected at least 320,000 people.

Officials discharged 400 million cubic meters of water from the Three Gorges Dam from May 7 to May 11, according to Wang Hai, a spokesman for the dam’s construction and operation management bureau, Xinhua reported on Thursday.

This discharge is aimed at fighting the current drought and raising levels of the Yangtze to aid shipping. People in the city of Yichang, where the dam stands, have been hit especially hard. They say they have had to buy water rather than relying on water from their land.

The water levels in the section of the Yangtze between Yichang and Jiujiang in Jiangxi Province were about 8 to 18 feet lower than average, Xinhua reported, citing a statement by the Hubei provincial flood control and drought relief headquarters



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