Last week China issued a drought alert as an unprecedented heatwave and low rainfall are affecting areas of the Yangtze River basin, informs The Guardian. Low river flows are reducing hydropower production, at the same time as electricity demand has soared as a result of the high temperatures.
The province of Sichuan, in the country’s south-west, relies on hydropower for more than 80% of its energy. The province has limited the power supply to thousands of factories, affecting companies such as Toyota, Foxconn and Tesla, which had to temporarily suspend operations at some plants. Public power use is also restricted.
More than one third of China’s population lives in the Yangtze basin, the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world. It is a major waterway and provides drinking water to more than 400 million people in the country. This summer, rainfall in the Yangtze basin is the lowest since records began in 1961, according to China's Ministry of Water Resources. The river’s tributaries are drying up, while water flow in the main trunk is 50% below the average for the last five years.
The drought has affected 2.2 million hectares of agricultural land in Sichuan, Hebei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui and Chongqing. Drinking water has been brought by truck where the supplies have dried up. In the month of July, high temperatures were responsible for direct economic losses of 2.73 billion yuan (about $398 million) and 5.5 million people were affected.
Dry conditions are reducing river flows across the world, including the Rhine – Europe’s second-largest river and an important shipping route – and the Loire in Europe, and the Colorado River in the U.S.
China is committed to climate change adaptation, has said Dr Faith Chan, from the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo. While country authorities have recognised the role of the climate crisis in the current drought and heatwave, the impact on the power supply is challenging China’s climate commitments, and vice-premier Han Zheng has said the country would increase power production by coal plants. Meanwhile, extreme temperatures are expected to continue until the end of August.