It pains us to say that the scourge of drought that began earlier this year has yet to abate.
The Financial Times reports that provinces including Hubei, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang have experienced abnormally low rainfall levels this year, with the area surrounding the Yangtze river basin receiving 40 percent less rain than average levels over the past 50 years.
The overall effect of the drought is extremely severe, with impacts on drinking supplies, fishing, rice harvests, and commercial trade as well, with shipping carriers across a stretch of the Yangtze halted since May 11th. There are also expected power shortages due to hydroelectric operations coming to a standstill in several sections of the Yangtze.
Lakes have also been impacted by the drought, with 1400 small lakes in Hubei province having been declared ‘dead’ by authorities. The surface area for Lake Poyang (鄱阳湖) in Jiangxi province, China’s largest freshwater lake, has now been reduced to one-tenth of its former size, with water levels declining by 5 meters.
Professor Guo Qinghan of the Hubei Academy of Social Sciences says that, due to land reclamation and soil erosion, some lakes are as shallow as ‘dinner plates’.
And even dolphins are catching hell.
Coming to the rescue in all this is the Three Gorges Dam, which began releasing 5 billion cubic meters into the Yangtze today, enough to fill 2 million Olympic-size swimming pools.
This comes just days after a Wen Jiabao-approved report on the Three Gorges Dam was released, which acknowledged the dam’s negative effect on downstream water supplies. However, the assertion has already been denied elsewhere, with Hubei Provincial Weather Bureau meteorologist Liu Min declaring the drought to be a ‘periodical phenomenon’, rather than the result of ‘improper water conservation’.
Given last year’s drought which affected 60 million people in southwest China, along with major flooding that occurred in several river systems including the Yangtze, we are inclined to think that a ‘periodical phenomenon’ is somewhat of an understatement.
But in case you thought it was all bad, rest assured. A five-star luxury cruise sailing along the Yangtze from Chongqing to Yichang in Hubei province had its maiden voyage Sunday, proving that tourists still have the tenacity of spirit to get drunk and take photos on a boat, even in the face of crippling ecological disaster.
For more information, Scientific American has an in-depth investigation on the Three Gorges Dam and its environmental impact.
By Fan Huang