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China’s fresh drought
No sooner had the drought in the winter wheat belt been alleviated by rain than water has run short in the Middle Yangtze region. Seven provinces are affected - Jiangxi, Hunan, Hubei, Guangdong, Yunnan, Sichuan and Guangxi. Heavy rain in expected in the coming months but China Daily quotes the Director of the Wuhan waterways bureau, as saying that this may not alleviate the situation.
The usual swing in China between floods and droughts now seems to have shifted markedly to water shortages. The level of the Yangtze is at its lowest since 2003. Water quantity in rivers in south China has fallen by 20-50 per cent. Water levels in the middle Yangtze are at near-record lows. A 140-mile stretch of the Yangtze has been closed to navigation above Wuhan. Levels in the section of the river between Yichang and Jiujiang in Jiangxi are between eight and 18 feet below normal, according to Xinhua. Some1500 reservoirs in Hubei province, most of them small, have water levels too low for them to release any of their contents. Water supply to 700,000 people is affected.
Xinhua says two million acres of farmland are threatened but the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters puts the amount of land affected at 13.5 million acres. The main effect has been in Hubei and Hunan Four hundred million cubic metres of water have been released from the Three Gorges Dam to try to alleviate the situation.
The drought raises questions over the plan to channel after from the Yangtze to northern China which was hit by a water shortage last winter. We have always been sceptical about progress on this mega-project because of topological and engineering difficulties. Now shortages at the planned source add a fresh wrinkly. If there is not enough water in the Yangtze itself, how can supply be diverted to the wheat belt and the Beijing region as planned? Water already diverted from Anhui to Tianjin is reported to be so polluted that special purifications plants are being built.