Rain fails to dispel drought in central China

Rain brought some relief for drought-stricken central China yesterday, but hot weather forecast for the next few days could worsen the situation, the most serious along the Yangtze River in more than 50 years.

Rainfalls of a few millimeters Monday could hardly dispel the thirst of tens of millions of residents and a huge expanse of farmland in the middle and low reaches of the Yangtze, China’s longest water system, experts say. It will need at least a dozen millimeters of fall to meet the demand.

The Yangtze has seen its lowest level of rainfall since 1961, an official with the river’s flood control and drought relief headquarters said.

The spring drought has affected Jiangxi, Hunan and Hubei provinces in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze, with 40-60 percent less rainfall on average, said Wang Guosheng, director with the drought relief headquarters.

Some regions have been overwhelmed by the lingering drought, which has seriously affected irrigation and water supply, Wang said.

Heavy rain hit north and central Jiangxi Province on Sunday and the water level on Poyang Lake in the north of the province, China’s biggest fresh water lake, increased by more than one meter to about 10 meters, but was still 4 meters lower than that in the same period of last year.

And, the neighboring Hubei Province is unaccustomed to the pain of a drought.

In the more than 200 days since the end of last autumn, most parts of the province have received 50 percent less rainfall than in the corresponding period of last year, and now its lakes and streams are drying up.

The water levels in more than 1,300 reservoirs in Hubei Province have dropped below the allowable discharge level for irrigation, said Yuan Junguang, director of the reservoir management office of Hubei Provincial Water Resources Department.

Some 22 millimeters of rain fell from Saturday night on more than 5.36 million mu (about 358,000 hectares) of farmland.

The provincial meteorological authority then carried out large scale artificial rain missions to increase rainfall. About 576 rockets and 3,352 artillery shells were launched while four airplanes were dispatched over 16 cities and regions in the province.

But the rain had stopped in most areas by yesterday morning.

The rain belt was due to move away from the drought-hit mid and downstream Yangtze River to south China leaving sunny weather, with temperatures rising to around 35 degree Celsius in some areas, the National Meteorological Center forecast yesterday.

“Without adequate water, the spring planting season for rice was lost,” said Zhou Xingtao, a farmer in Yandian Village. He said high prices for irrigation had forced some farmers to give up on planting.

Lu Yaoru, a member of Chinese Academy of Engineering, said the over-enclosure of tideland on the lakes for cultivation, including the Dongting Lake in Hunan and Poyang Lake in Jiangxi, had accelerated the shrinkage of the lakes during the drought.

Even before the current drought, the size of Poyang Lake had decreased to about 2,000 square meters from 4,000 square meters in 1949, he said.

China’s Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower project, will continue to discharge water to the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze until June 10 when the flood season was expected to end to the drought, the Yangtze River Water Conservancy Commission said.

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