Millions in need of food aid as drought hits China

A man walks along the dried-up banks of the Yangtze River in Wuhu yesterday. It is China’s longest and most economically important river, where water levels have been 40 per cent lower than average levels of the past 50 years. Central China’s worst drought in more than 50 years is drying reservoirs, stalling rice planting, and threatens to cause power shortages as hydroelectricity output goes down. Photo | AFP

A man walks along the dried-up banks of the Yangtze River in Wuhu yesterday. It is China’s longest and most economically important river, where water levels have been 40 per cent lower than average levels of the past 50 years. Central China’s worst drought in more than 50 years is drying reservoirs, stalling rice planting, and threatens to cause power shortages as hydroelectricity output goes down. Photo | AFP

BEIJING, Saturday

A debilitating drought along China’s Yangtze River has affected more than 34 million people, leaving farmers and livestock without water and parching a major grain belt, the government said today.

More than 4.23 million people are having difficulty finding adequate drinking supplies, while more than five million are in need of assistance to overcome the drought, the Civil Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

“The special characteristics of this drought disaster is that it has persisted a long time,” the ministry said.

“Secondly the losses to the agricultural and breeding industries have been severe … while drinking water for people and livestock have been seriously impacted.”

Rainfall levels from January to April in the drainage basin of the Yangtze, China’s longest and most economically important river, have been up to 60 per cent lower than average levels of the past 50 years, it said.

“Large areas of farmland have been severely parched and are cracking, making it impossible for early rice to take root,” the ministry said.

The agricultural impact is likely to further alarm officials already trying to tame high prices, including grain prices that have been rising steadily on global markets in recent months.

So far the drought has led to direct economic losses amounting to 14.94 billion yuan ($2.29 billion), the ministry said.

Water levels in lakes and reservoirs mostly in the provinces of Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei and Hunan are close to historic lows, decimating fish farms, government press reports said.

Water levels in Dongting Lake, China’s second largest, were so low that experts issued warnings of a possible explosion of the lake’s rat population, Xinhua news agency said.

The national flood and drought control authority has ordered the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric project, to increase its discharge of water to alleviate the regions downstream, the China Daily said.

“If the drought continues and there is no rainfall before June 10, the dam will lose the capacity to relieve the drought,” the paper quoted Wang Hai, an official with the corporation that oversees the dam, as saying.

According to the government meteorological station, no rains are predicted in the region until June 2.

The Three Gorges Dam has already had to cut back on electrical production due to the drought, while shipping along the river below the dam has been hampered due to the low water levels, media reports said.

The State Grid, China’s state-owned power distributor, reportedly said this week that 10 of its provincial-level power grids were suffering severe shortages due to the drought’s impact on hydroelectric generation.(AFP)

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Rising sea levels threaten Sydney and Melbourne, say scientists

A team of Australia’s top scientists warned yesterday that coastal regions near the country’s largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne are highly vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by global warming. The government-appointed Climate Commission said sea levels may rise 0.5m to 1m by 2100, threatening areas covering much of Australia’s population and infrastructure.

Sydney may even see “extreme events” once a month by 2100, with the increasing likelihood of damaging floods, storm surges and king tides around the coast, reported The Sydney Morning Herald. “While a sea-level rise of 0.5 metre … may not seem like a matter for much concern, such modest levels of sea-level rise can lead to unexpectedly large increases in the frequency of extreme high sea-level events,” the commission said in a report titled The Critical Decade. The report aims to shift Australia’s current political debate over the government’s climate policy, which has polarised voters and been used by opposition parties to attack its parliamentary rivals. “This is the critical decade. Decisions we make from now to 2020 will determine the severity of climate change,” said the scientists, whose report was handed to Prime Minister Julia Gillard. “To minimise this risk, we must decarbonise our economy and move to clean energy sources by 2050. Carbon emissions must peak within the next few years and then strongly decline,” they said. Australia’s 22 million people are responsible for about 1.5 per cent of mankind’s greenhouse gas pollution, making it the developed world’s top per-capita carbon polluter.