China Faces its Biggest Foe

Asia Times reports on China’s battle against Mother Nature:

As the nation celebrates the miraculous rescue of 115 miners trapped for eight days in one of the country’s notoriously dangerous coal mines in northern Shanxi province, the worst drought in a century continues to seize China’s southwest. While state-owned China Central Television trumpeted the heroic rescue effort and provided blanket coverage, the head of relief in China last week found himself denying media reports of abandoned villages and an exodus of refugees from stricken areas.

“I don’t think there are any refugees,” said Liu Ning, secretary general of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

But the reports continue, and things could get a lot worse if the hoped-for rainy season does not arrive next month. At least 22 million people and 7.4 million hectares of farmland are affected by the drought in the provinces of Guangxi, Guizhou, and Sichuan and in the sprawling municipality of Chongqing. Moreover, Liu, who is also vice minister of water resources, has admitted that three northern provinces – Shanxi, Hebei and Gansu – have also been hit by drought, as has the autonomous region of Ningxia. That means the livelihoods of millions more farmers are at risk, and that drinking water is becoming an increasingly precious commodity.

See also a video report from The Guardian:

There is not a drop of water in sight. The baked and fissured earth resembles an ancient desert. Yet shellfish are scattered here in their thousands; all so recently perished that shriveled, blackened bodies are still visible inside cracked, opened shells.

Far out of water, the aquatic animals are not the advance guard of evolutionary progress; but the victims of a drought that has devastated their habitat and now threatens the livelihoods of millions of people in surrounding regions. The Chinese government is so worried about the drought that it has embarked on a massive rain-making operation, involving firing thousands of shells and rockets into the sky to seed clouds.

Until last summer, Damoguzhen was home to a lake that stretched across a mile-wide expanse of water in Yunnan, a southern Chinese province famed for its mighty rivers, moist climate and beautiful views.

Today, it joins 310 reservoirs, 580 rivers and 3,600 pools that have been baked dry by a once-in-a-century drought that is evaporating drinking supplies, devastating crops and stirring up political tensions over dam construction, monoculture plantations and cross-border water management in south-east Asia. Linking specific weather events to human-caused climate change is impossible, but the drought is consistent with what climate scientists expect to see more of in future.

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