Hundreds of Thousands Running Out of Water in Southern China

People walk along the banks of the Yangtze River on New Year's Eve day in Wuhan in Chinas central Hubei province on December 31, 2020. (Photo by Noel Celis / AFP) (Photo by NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)
NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

Months of drought in southern and eastern China have left more than 300,000 people with drinking water shortages, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Sunday.

Recorded rainfall since October in regions south of China’s Yangtze River has been 50 to 80 percent lower than usual, the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources said on February 4. Roughly 2.4 million people across the southeastern coastal provinces of Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangdong have already been affected by the drought, and concerns are “growing” for people residing in Guangxi, Hunan, and Yunnan provinces, the ministry said.

“More than 500,000 hectares of arable land” in China have been affected by the drought so far, “leaving 330,000 people in rural areas without a sufficient supply of potable water,” the ministry revealed.

Authorities in the Zhejiang county of Sanmen recently ordered that the water supply to residents’ homes be shut off on alternate days, according to the state-run China Central Television (CCTV). Businesses deemed non-essential by the county government and that use large amounts of water have been asked to suspend operations temporarily.

China’s Ministry of Water Resources said last week that it sent government officials to the affected regions to monitor the situation. The ministry added that it has consulted with China’s finance ministry to allocate disaster relief funds to “severe drought areas” and ensure residents’ water supply.

About three-quarters of Zhejiang — a province the size of South Korea — has been impacted by the drought so far, according to Lei Yuan, a senior engineer at the Zhejiang Meteorological Service Center.

“While fall and winter always see less rain than the rest of the year, it’s usually not dry enough to declare a drought. But the average rainfall since October has been 70 percent lower compared with the same period last year,” Lei told the Chinese news site Sixth Tone on February 8.

Several Zhejiang cities have issued wildfire warnings in recent weeks. The Zhejiang government recently predicted that the province’s drought will last until at least April.

The lack of rain has already devastated Chinese autumn and winter crops, including potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and bananas, and may threaten this year’s rice harvest.

“If the precipitation continues to be low, it may affect rice seeding and planting,” Qian Yonglan, a senior researcher at China’s National Meteorological Center, told the SCMP on February 7.

“However, as early rice has not yet been planted on a large scale, the impact so far has been limited,” she added.

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