China battles Yangtze drought

China is attempting to bring more water to the drought-hit basin of the Yangtze river as it continues to combat a record-breaking heatwave.

China’s heatwave has run for 64 days, making it the longest since full records began in 1961, state media said, citing data from the National Climate Centre.

High temperatures are expected to persist until 26 August  in the Sichuan basin and large parts of central China.

On 17 August, China’s southwestern province of Sichuan said it would ration power supplies to homes, offices and shopping malls, after having already ordered energy-intensive metals and fertiliser producers to curb operations. 

Curbs on the use of electricity are also being put in place.

Government officials in offices have also been asked to set air conditioners no lower than 26 degrees Celsius (78.8°F) and use more staircases instead of lifts, according to reports.

Fountains, light shows and commercial activities after dark are also set to be suspended.

For over two months, extreme temperatures have disrupted crop growth, threatened livestock and forced industries in the hydropower-dependent regions of the southwest region of the country to shut down so as to ensure electricity supplies for homes.

China has repeatedly warned that it faces a proliferation of extreme weather events in coming years as it tries to adapt to climate change and rises in temperature.

Power shortages have also prompted several companies in the huge Chongqing region bordering Sichuan to say they would suspend production.

Hydropower makes up about 80% of Sichuan’s power capacity, but dwindling water flows on the Yangtze and its tributaries have led to a struggle to meet mounting demand for air conditioning as temperatures soared to 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) and beyond.

Drought throughout the Yangtze river basin was also “adversely affecting” drinking water for rural people and livestock, as well as the growth of crops, the water resources ministry said in a notice.

It urged drought-hit regions to make plans to maintain water supply with steps such as temporary water transfer, the development of new sources and the extension of pipe networks.

To boost downstream supplies, China’s biggest hydropower project, the Three Gorges dam, will step up water discharges by 500 million cubic metres over the next 10 days, it said on 16 August. Water flows there this week were about half those of a year earlier.

Some livestock from drought-hit areas had been temporarily moved elsewhere, the finance ministry said this week, promising disaster relief of 300 million yuan ($44.3 million).

On 17 August, the central province of Hubei became the latest region to attempt to artificially induce rainfall, by sending airplanes to fire silver iodide into clouds.