Reefs exposed, ships stranded and fish stocks plummeting, the
continuing ordeal of China's Yangtze River has been exacerbated by
the worst water shortage in more than a century.
Heat waves hit Chongqing Municipality and Sichuan Province in
the upper Yangtze last summer, and rainfall was nearly halved in
most sections of the Yangtze, resulting in a severe drought.
Water in the upper reaches decreased by over 60 percent from the
previous year, and cities downstream reported the lowest water
levels since records were first kept in 1877.
"Previously we had to prepare for floods, but the drought has
changed all that," said Zhou Jinyun, director of the fishery bureau
in the port city of Anqing, in east China's Anhui Province, in the
middle reaches of the river.
In Anqing, the water is only four meters deep, and will continue
to drop as the drought continues, Zhou said.
But in fact the drought is only part of the story of the
Yangtze's sad decline. Over 9,000 chemical plants line the banks of
China's longest waterway, 45 percent of the national total.
Dongting Lake, China's second largest freshwater lake in central
China's Hunan Province, which is fed by the Yangtze, has to absorb
discharges from over 230 paper-making factories.
As the once-mighty Yangtze threads its way through 11 regions in
China, water is intensively siphoned off for factories,
hydroelectric schemes and agriculture. And when the factories
release water back into the river, it is full of pollutants,
leading to a series of pollution and chemical accidents in recent
"This is the worst water shortage I've seen in my thirty years
experience as a marine worker," said Huang Yongming, head of the
Maritime Bureau in the neighboring Tongling city.
The Three Gorges dam has opened its floodgates to feed the
river, but statistics from monitoring stations in central China's
Hubei Province and east China's Jiangsu Province have shown no
perceptible rise in water levels.
The reduced water flow is affecting the river's capacity to
dilute pollutants. Water resource authorities in Hankou, Hubei
Province, have had to add chlorides to purify drinking water for
residents in the city.
The water shortage has affected the whole ecology of the
"Dwindling water reserves have made it harder for fish to
survive, including endangered species like baiji, or white-flag
dolphins, and increased the risks of them being injured by passing
ships," said Wang Zhenxi, director of fishery management in
Tongling, Anhui Province.
Wang said they had found some fish, including finless porpoises,
maimed by ship propellers and with their skulls shattered.
Low water levels in the river have made it impossible for some
fish species to migrate back to the sea, threatening their survival
in shallow waters.
"Continuing water shortages, which date from long before the
drought, have had a drastic effect on fish resources in the
Yangtze, which is home to most of China's freshwater fish species,"
said Li Zhenye, director of the marine farm administration in
Yangtze fishermen, who make their living on the river, are
experiencing a sharp drop in their earnings. The annual per capita
income of over 50,000 fishermen around Poyang Lake, the largest
freshwater lake in China, was less than 600 yuan (about US$77),
only one fifth of their earning in previous years.
Meanwhile, the shipping industry along the Yangtze is also
feeling the effects of the water shortage.
Water depth at Yichang and Jingjiang in the middle reaches of
the river no longer reaches the navigation standard of 2.9 meters.
Local maritime authorities have dispatched dredgers to dig out
sludge, and in some places, they took the drastic step of exploding
reefs to make navigation possible.
Large vessels were ordered to unload shipments or banned from
navigation to ease the traffic jam caused by shrinking
Local maritime bureaus have increased patrols to issue warnings
and prevent ships from running aground.
The Yangtze maritime authority said the situation will improve
in February. But no long-term solutions for China's longest river
have so far been defined, and the Yangtze's sad decline seems
destined to continue.
The Yangtze River, the third longest in the world after the Nile
and the Amazon, runs from far west Qinghai and Tibet through 186
cities including Chongqing, Wuhan and Nanjing before emptying into
the sea at Shanghai.
The total gross domestic product (GDP) of all cities along the
Yangtze River accounts for 41 percent of the national total,
according to government statistics.
(Xinhua News Agency January 19, 2007)