Seven central and eastern provinces, plus Shanghai, are experiencing water shortages. The Yangtze, China’s longest river, sustains 65.7 per cent of the nation’s paddy fields, according to the Agricultural Yearbook.
The authorities blame the problem on global warming, but many experts point the finger at the 185-metre-high Three Gorges Dam. They suspect it might be changing the climate. Since it came on stream, droughts are more frequent and long lasting.
China has a vast network of hydroelectric dams, and the driest season in 50 years is causing unexpected difficulties. Water levels at the Danjiangkou Dam on the Han River, a tributary of the Yangtze, have dropped to a record low. In almost 1,600 reservoirs in Hubei province, there is 40 per cent less water than a year ago, already one of the driest years on record.
Nearly 10 million people in 87 cities and counties have been hit by the prolonged drought, and 1.2 million hectares of farmland are suffering from chronic water shortages.
Lake Poyang (Jianxi), China’s largest, has shrunk to less than a fifth of its usual area. Dongting in Hunan and Tai and Hongze in Jiangsu have dropped to or near record lows.
In addition, 3.2 million farm animals are already suffering from drinking water shortages, the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said.
For the coming weekend, high temperatures and low rainfall are expected. Rainfall levels from January to May in the drainage basin of the Yangtze, China's longest and most economically important river, have been 40 per cent lower than the average levels of the past 50 years.
Hubei and Hunan provinces alone produce about 30 per cent of China’s early indica rice crop, a basic staple in the Chinese diet. Soldiers and armed police are on standby to ensure water supplies to rice fields.
Early indica rice futures gained for a third day in Zhengzhou, bringing the advance this week to as much as 3.9 percent.
Water shortages are also affecting grain, although “The drought’s overall impact on grain production isn’t clear yet,” more cautious-minded authorities said.
Water shortages are having a negative effect on electrical companies. Summer has always meant power shortages across the country. In the big cities, regulations impose strict limits on electricity use for private consumption.
The state-owned Xinhua news agency warns that this summer China could face an electricity shortage of 30 gigawatts—the most severe power shortfall since 2004.