For the past two months, extreme heat and droughts have been plaguing several regions of China, including the Yangtze river region. According to the scientific journal New Scientist, the extreme temperatures were the highest in the history of climate records. 

The hot weather and lack of rainfall are seriously impacting the local economy—food production, agriculture, and industries. Many factories had to suspend activities due to constant power outages and many crops were damaged. Several cities reported temperatures above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). In Chongqing, Sichuan province, it reached 45 C (113 F) on August 18. And and on August 20, did the minimum temperature drop to 34.5 C (94.1 F), which is the highest minimum temperature recorded in China during August.

The Yangtze river basin supports more than 450 million people and one-third of the country’s crops. Although the heat wave is expected to subside with the end of August, farmers are facing heavy crop losses. 

Since July, the drought affected more than 2 million acres of farmland in six provinces—Sichuan, Chongqing, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi and Anhui, according to reports released by the Chinese Communist Party. The shortage of rainfall also affected the lower reaches of the Yangtze river, including Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces on the east coast. Some economists commented that the affected areas can be called China’s “grain cradle,” accounting for more than 20% of the country’s total agricultural output. Li Zhong, a professor at the City University of Hong Kong said that crop damage and water shortages could “spill over to other food-related sectors, leading to substantial price increases or a food crisis in the most severe case.”

The Ministry of Water Resources reported that the drought impacted 33 million mu of arable land (5.44 million acres) and 350,000 head of livestock, however these figures could be much higher.

On August 23, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Emergency Management, and the Meteorological Bureau issued an emergency warning asking farmers to harvest and store rice, take measures to strengthen grain growth in the coming weeks, and requested local governments make every effort to find more water sources. In the most severely affected areas, the government urged farmers to plant late autumn crops such as sweet potatoes.

Chinese farmers struggle to survive

An experienced 68-year-old Chinese farmer, Chen Xiaohua, told Reuters, “This year is drier than 1960, even the temperature is higher, and we can only go out to work in the morning, after noon we take shelter at home, we are afraid to go outside because of the heat.”  Chen’s orchard, is located near the Yangtze and its tributary, the Longxi. He normally relies on fresh water from mountain streams, but this has dwindled to nothing in recent days. His crops are drying up.

A Chinese woman in her 60s named Ye Fa travels 7 kilometers (over 4 miles) to Poyang Lake every morning and evening to look for the few fish left in the water. “The water used to flood the embankment. But now there is no [water] anymore,” Ye told Reuters. Poyang is China’s largest freshwater lake and Yangtze tributaries drain into it during the summer. These days, the large lake has turned to dry land and the remaining water forms a shrinking mud pond.

An owner of a chicken farm in Douyin, showed on social networks the disaster caused by the extreme heat and the loss of almost all her birds.

A Chinese netizen showed unusual flooding in the desert, as a result of meltwater from the Kunlun mountain range. The intense heat melted the snow on the mountains. Another Chinese citizen from Chongqing uploaded a video to the internet showing a person crossing the Jialing River on a motorcycle. “I don’t know [what is happening] it looks as if the Earth and the sun have gone out of their orbits, the river dried up completely,” the netizen said.

Sixty-six rivers in 34 counties in Chongqing, Sichuan province, have dried up, CCTV reported. Rainfall dropped by 60% and farmlands in several districts is suffering from severe moisture shortages.

The Ministry of Public Emergencies reported on August 18 that the previous month’s high temperatures caused economic losses of $400 million, affecting more than 5.5 million people.

Extreme weather affects crops

According to CCTV (Chinese state channel), drones were deployed in the skies over Sichuan to seed clouds and bring rain, while in other regions along the Yangtze, firefighting teams are being mobilized to control the fires.

Chinese authorities attribute the drought and heat wave to a weather crisis. Chen Lijuan, head of forecasting at the country’s national climate center, last week described the heat wave and drought as a “pressure cooker.”

“We have to face the fact that similar heat waves will occur frequently in the future…it will become the new normal,” Chen said.

The rice crop and the corn crop are in serious jeopardy. “I think the biggest impact of the heatwave will be on the rice crop – corn is also in trouble, but not as much,” said Ole Houe, director of advisory services at agricultural brokerage IKON Commodities in Sydney. 

China, the world’s largest consumer and importer of rice, will import a record 6 million tons in 2022.

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