At a press conference on August 17, China’s Vice Minister of Water Resources Liu Weiping announced conditions in the Yangtze River basin were rapidly deteriorating, putting more than 8,200 square kilometers of agricultural land, 830,000 people, and 160,000 farm animals at risk.
For the moment, most medium- and large-scale irrigation networks — and the rural and urban communities that rely on them — remain safe, according to Liu. The hardest hit regions lie outside of irrigation networks, and water supply issues are mostly limited to projects dependent on small reservoirs, mountain springs, or creeks.
Nevertheless, the drought has renewed debate within China about the risks posed by a changing climate. At the conference, Gu Binjie, an inspector with the Drought and Flood Prevention Department, noted that the basin’s current drought is the worst since 1961.
In the southwestern province of Sichuan, long a hydropower giant, dried-up reservoirs have forced officials to shut factories to conserve power for civilian use. In neighboring Chongqing, home to the massive Three Gorges Dam, residents sunbathed on the now-exposed Jialing riverbed. And further downstream, Lake Poyang in eastern China experienced its earliest dry season on record.
After three weeks without rain, government officials in Chongqing and Sichuan warned that parts of the region face possible floods Sunday. Heavy rains are forecast to hit southwestern China through Tuesday.
Reporters: Zhao Zuoyan and Wang Yasai.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Paper. It has been translated and edited for brevity and clarity, and is published here with permission.
Translators: Lewis Wright and Luo Yahan; editors: Zhi Yu, Luo Yahan, and Kilian O’Donnell.
(Header image: Caked mud is visible around the usually half-submerged Luoxingdun, a small island with ancient temples on it in Poyang Lake in Juijiang, Jiangxi province on August 23, 2022. Noel Celis/AFP via VCG))