Three Gorges Probe

Drought alert for parched Sichuan

South China Morning Post
August 14, 2006

Lack of rain and heatwave making safe drinking water scarce.

A prolonged heatwave and a lack of rainfall are drying up the southwestern province of Sichuan , leaving at least 10 million people in the region without easy access to clean drinking water. The month-long drought has also led to a drop in the level of the Yangtze River at Chongqing , the most populated area by the river, to 3.5 metres – the lowest since records began after the 1892 flood season, according to the Chongqing Evening News. Known as one of China’s “three furnaces”, Chongqing faced its hottest day since 1959 on Saturday, with the mercury rising to 42 degrees Celsius in the urban area. In Jiangjin city , which falls within Chongqing municipality, temperatures rose above 43 degrees, the report said. Authorities in Chongqing and Sichuan issued a red drought alert, the most severe stage in a four-level drought-warning system.

They warned the heatwave would continue for a while in the region, with the average temperature hitting 38 degrees for another week. Authorities have blamed a lack of rainfall and the scorching heat over the past month for the severe drought. It has been described by state media as the worst drought in China in the past 50 years. Some reports said the drought started as early as June. The China News Service estimated that more than 2.63 million people in Sichuan were without access to clean drinking water. The Chongqing Evening News said at least 8 million people in Chongqing, which is geographically located inside Sichuan, had trouble obtaining clean drinking water, and Xinhua said 14 million people in the municipality had been affected by the drought. Villagers have been seen digging wells, while people have been pictured on television lining up in front of trucks carrying drinking water. Parched farmland with withered crops have become a common sight as the severe weather deals a heavy blow to farmers in Sichuan, China’s largest agricultural production province. More than 20 million mu (1.34 million hectares) of farmland in Sichuan has been affected by the drought, and 2.3 million mu of land has failed to bear crops, the China News Service said. Crop failures had cost farmers about 9.2 billion yuan, Xinhua said. Kevin Li Yuk-shing, a researcher with International River Networks, said if the drought continued the region would face an energy crunch as most of its electricity was generated by hydropower projects.

Transportation remained unaffected on the Yangtze River, but was expected to be disrupted if water levels dropped further as predicted. Xinhua reported that local authorities had allocated funds to search for water underground and enhance the protection of existing reserves. The northern provinces of Ningxia , Gansu and Inner Mongolia , and the southern province of Hubei , had also been hit by drought, the China News Service said.

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