A fishing boat is stranded on the cracked bed of Poyang Lake in Jiujiang, East China's Jiangxi province, 4 May 2011. Poyang Lake is at its lowest level in more than 50 years. The lake is drying up because of less rainfall this year and an historic drought. Xinhua Photo / Zhang Jun

By Leslie Hook in Beijing, with additional reporting by Gwen Chen in Beijing
24 May 2011

Chinese authorities will step up the release of water from the Three Gorges Dam in a bid to tackle a drought in southern China which has put pressure on drinking water, crops, shipping lanes and electricity production in what is traditionally China’s most water-abundant region.

The monsoon rains that usually flood southern China’s middle Yangtze river in spring did not come this year, and officials say rainfall in Hubei, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang is at its lowest level in more than 50 years.

“Such large-scale scarcity in southern China is very serious and the scale is much larger than before,” said Zhang Ximing, a water resources specialist at the World Bank who recently returned from drought-stricken Jiangxi.

While droughts are not uncommon in China, water shortages have steadily worsened during the past decade, as increased agricultural irrigation and worsening water contamination have hit supplies. China’s available water per capita is just a quarter of the world average and the lowest of any large economy, according to the World Bank. …

In Hubei and Hunan provinces, the drought has threatened drinking supplies for more than 1m people. In neighbouring Jiangxi province, Poyang Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake, has hit a 59-year low and rice transplants around it have stopped.

Bulk shipping carriers were banned on May 11 from using a 228km stretch of the Yangtze because of low water levels.

“It rings a big alarm bell when the Yangtze itself is facing drought,” says Ma Jun, an environmental activist and author of China’s Water Crisis. “The total population supported by this river basin is around 400m people – it’s the most important watershed in China.” …

“Lots of villagers don’t have water to drink,” Chen Tianlin, a rice farmer in Jielin village, Hubei province, told the Financial Times.

He has to travel for 40 minutes by tractor over steep mountain roads to buy water in a neighbouring village. “It hasn’t rained for six months,” he sighs. “All the rice fields have dried up.”

Lake systems around the central Yangtze river have also dried up. In Hubei province, 1,400 small lakes have become so shrivelled that authorities have declared them “dead” and banned any water pumping, state media reported.

“Human activities have intensified the drought [in Hubei],” says Guo Qinghan, an economics professor at the Hubei Academy of Social Sciences.

“Because of improper developments like land reclamation and soil erosion, some lakes are as shallow as dinner plates.” …

China faces worst drought in 50 years



Blog Template by Adam Every . Sponsored by Business Web Hosting Reviews