The Yangtze, Three Gorges and China’s 2011 drought
The water in the Yangtze river, China’s longest, has dropped to its lowest ever recorded level. According to the latest census figures for the People’s Republic, the urban population now represents 49.68% of the country’s total population. Of the more than 600 cities, 400 are haunted by a lack of water and the problem is acute for 200 of them. If seasonal lack of water in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze further expands as it has in the past decade and becomes permanent, said the China Daily, “it will be impossible for North China, long plagued by drought, to rely on its southern counterparts to quench its thirst”. More than 1,000 reservoirs in Central China’s Hubei province dropped to such a low level that 500,000 people face a shortage of drinking water.
The newspaper said: “The government can never attach too much strategic importance to the water problem in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, given its position as one of the most important grain production bases, one of the most densely populated regions and the country’s most developed area. Records show that the seasonal water level in this part of the Yangtze has constantly reached the historical lows of at least 20 years every year in the last decade.”
On May 18, the State Council, China’s cabinet, announced for the first time that “problems that demand prompt solutions exist” in the project’s resettlement of residents, ecological protection, and prevention and control of geological disasters. The project’s follow-up plan says that by 2020, those resettled as a result of the dam should expect to live the average life of residents in Hubei province and Chongqing municipality, which the reservoir spans. About 1.3 million people have been resettled since 1993, fewer than 20% of them outside the reservoir area. The rest had to move to higher ground. The plots there are smaller and, because the slopes are unstable, most are ill suited to farming. With limited access to arable land, compensation, preferential policies, education and transportation, many are still struggling in sheer poverty.
Now, China’s President Hu Jintao has urged local government officials to treat drought relief in rural areas as an “urgent task” as he wraps up a four-day inspection tour in central China’s Hubei Province Friday. According to Xinhua, Hu’s call comes in the midst of the worst drought in 60 years that hit the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River.
These areas are China’s important agricultural production bases. Hu asked government officials to provide fiscal and technological support to farmers and work to ensure they have enough drinking water. Efforts should be made to give full play to the role of reservoirs in offsetting the impact of the drought, Hu stressed when visiting the Danjiangkou Reservoir, which is part of China’s massive south-to-north water diversion project.
On Friday 03 June 2011, Vice Minister of Environmental Protection Li Ganjie told the press that the drought has caused the deterioration of water quality in several major lakes. The long-lasting drought has led to the sharp reduction of water levels in major lakes such as Poyang Lake, Dongting Lake and Honghu Lake. Monitoring statistics showed that water quality in these lakes saw a noticeable decline in March and April, compared to the same period last year, according to Li.
Wetlands and migrant birds in these regions have also suffered from the drought, the worst to hit the region in decades, said Li. Over 1,333 hectares of wetlands located east of Dongting Lake have dried up. The drought has left the Yangtze River, China’s longest river, with its lowest levels of rainfall since 1961.
Li denied that the drought was aggravated by the river’s Three Gorges Dam. He stressed that a shortage of rainfall tcaused the drought. The long-lasting drought has affected parts of Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, which are located near the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. These areas have seen 40 to 60 percent less rainfall than usual.