Action taken to counter drought

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The central government has increased measures to reduce the impact of the continued drought and the prolonged heat waves that ravaged southern China this summer, enacting steps to bolster irrigation, ensure the supply of drinking water and divert more energy to regions affected by power shortages.

The heat waves that struck the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River since June 13 are the most powerful since 1961, when China first established a complete meteorological records system, according to the National Climate Center.

The lingering heat led to droughts that threaten rice production in southern China and the availability of tap water in rural areas.

At an executive meeting of the State Council, presided over by Premier Li Keqiang on Aug 24, officials decided to channel 10 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) from central government reserves to support drought relief efforts, especially for rice farmers.

The meeting called for stronger measures to ensure drinking water supplies and rolled out steps to deliver water to drought-hit families.

Liu Weiping, vice-minister of water resources, said at a news briefing on Aug 17 that drought is affecting 821,000 hectares of farmland in regions including Chongqing and the provinces of Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi and Anhui.

Since July, the amount of rain that fell in the Yangtze River basin, China's largest river and Asia's longest watercourse, declined by 45 percent compared to average levels in previous years, threatening the water supply of over 830,000 people and 160,000 livestock, Liu said.

He added that the ministry had ordered the release of 5.3 billion cubic meters of water from reservoirs into the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze to offset the effects of the drought.

In an emergency notice issued on Aug 22, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and four other departments warned that the drought posed a severe threat to the autumn harvest, and that the agricultural sector is faced with an unusually difficult challenge as it strives to stave off disaster.

Agricultural authorities pledged to make every effort to seek out more sources for irrigation, including increasing attempts to induce artificial rainfall and digging more wells.

The drought has cut hydropower generation in half and forced cities in Sichuan to impose rolling blackouts and limit energy usage at factories and in commercial buildings to ensure power for residential communities.

To overcome the shortage, the National Energy Administration said coal output has risen by 19.4 percent year-on-year from Aug 1 to Aug 17 to fuel coal-fired plants.

The administration said it will make full use of large power grids to buttress energy supplies in Sichuan and Chongqing.

The national leader in terms of its hydropower capacity, Sichuan has welcomed the rain that has fallen in the region since Saturday, which has helped lower temperatures and revived the generation capacity of hydropower stations.

The State Grid Corp said on Sunday that power supplies to the industrial and the commercial sectors have resumed across the board.

Zhao Hong, an official with the State Grid Sichuan Electric Power Company, told China Central Television that it will still take time for hydropower generation to be fully restored.

While the power shortage was resolved by Tuesday, some analysts have warned of lingering effects from the drought, including more hydropower shortfalls this coming winter.

Guo Guangfen, deputy head of the Regional Climate Center in Wuhan, said the upstream water deficiency will result in reduced hydropower in the winter, when rainfall is expected to drop significantly.

In addition, Zhao Honghe, an analyst with China Merchant Securities, explained that winter demand for heating will increase power consumption in residential communities, leading to the risk of another round of power shortages in regions that rely heavily on hydropower, especially Sichuan.

About 60 to 70 percent of the province's annual rain falls between June and September, and the wet season drought could continue to affect hydropower capacities in the autumn and winter, he said.

Zhao said that the drought may have already had an effect on autumn grain harvests, which contribute about 75 percent to annual national grain production.

He explained that the drought hit during a critical growth period, and so autumn crops including rice, corn and soybeans could experience a decline in yields.

"The good news is that China's food reserves are at a historical high, and this will help mitigate fluctuations in grain supplies," he said.

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