Causes & Consequences of Southern Droughts

According to Xinhua, nearly 8 million people and over 4.5 million livestock in 13 provinces suffered from inadequate drinking water as of April 5th. Severe drought, usually a characteristic of the north, increasingly afflicts the south as well: this year it has wrecked winter crops and prompted media directives from the Central Propaganda Department. This week’s edition of The Economist discusses the possible causes and consequences of southern droughts.

The river systems of Yunnan and Guizhou figure only modestly in the planned supply chain of the South-North Water Diversion Project. But if the causes of the drought in these provinces have to do with changing global climate patterns, the main assumption underlying the project—that of permanent water abundance in the south—may not hold up.

Liu Xiaokang of the Yunnan Green Environment Development Foundation, an NGO in Kunming, believes the causes are mixed. Global climate may be affecting patterns of precipitation, he says. But his group also notes that the parts of Yunnan that are hardest hit are those where development has been fastest and deforestation most extensive ….

… Professor Jiang Tong [of China’s National Climate Centre] warns of problems with the transfer project if both south and north suffer drought at the same time. The situation, he adds, is complicated by the Yangzi’s Three Gorges dam. It provides massive amounts of hydroelectricity to the Yangzi basin. He is concerned about what will happen should Shanghai need more power at the same time that Beijing needs more water.

See more on China’s droughts and their effects, from power shortages in the industrial Pearl River Delta to spiking food prices around the world, via CDT.