In the heat wave, half of China suffers from drought

Suffocating temperatures and lack of rain: a heatwave of unprecedented magnitude causes drought in China over half of its vast territory, from the snow-capped mountains of Tibet to the beaches in the east of the country.

On the podium of the hottest Chinese cities in recent days, the municipality-province of Chongqing (southwest), where 31 million people live, continued to suffer Thursday. While the thermometer reads 41.9 ° C, many residents are looking for a bit of freshness in shopping centers or the metro. On social networks, some complained about having to queue in the middle of a heat wave to be tested, after an epidemic rebound of Covid-19 in the huge metropolis.

Midsummer heat waves are not unusual in China, especially in the arid west and south of the country. But the country is facing extreme weather this year, exacerbated by global warming, scientists say. It thus experiences its hottest summer since the beginning of its meteorological records more than 60 years ago. A situation unprecedented in its duration, with more than 70 days of high temperatures, but also in its magnitude.

Drought in Tibet

Several major cities have recorded the hottest days in their history and, due to lack of precipitation, many rivers have dried up, like the largest river in the country, the Yangtze. These climatic conditions jeopardize the harvests and weaken the electricity network, at a time when millions of inhabitants are turning on their air conditioning.

The drought is now affecting half of China’s territory to varying degrees, according to a map released Wednesday by the national meteorological service. This vast area that is Tibet has a total of more than 370 million inhabitants, and mainly follows the course of the Yangtze River, a precious source of drinking water.

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Some parts of Tibet are among the drought zones qualified as “severe” or “exceptional” by the national meteorology. In Sichuan (southwest), where a locality had reached 44 degrees on Wednesday, heavy rains however locally refreshed the atmosphere of this mountainous region. For safety, nearly 30,000 people had to be evacuated, public television CCTV reported on Thursday.

Changes in weather that cause hassle to agriculture

Last week, flash floods hit northwest China and killed 26 people. At the other end of the country on Thursday, cyclone Ma-on swept through southern China. This heat wave represents a challenge for agriculture, in a country which is already in normal times in deficit of arable land. Drought is particularly problematic for rice and soybean crops, which are very water-intensive.

In this context, the government decided on Wednesday to release a special envelope of 10 billion yuan (nearly 1.5 billion euros) to support farmers in the face of drought, according to CCTV. This sum will mainly be allocated to ensuring the rice harvests in the fall.

The drying up of the rivers that feed the hydraulic dams also forces the authorities to locally ration electricity, particularly in Sichuan where the 84 million inhabitants depend 80% on this source of energy.

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