Shocking Photos Show China's Historic Drought

Shocking Photos Show China's Historic Drought

From factories shutting off power to relics being exposed, a record-breaking drought and heat wave are hitting China hard.

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Security officers stand in the dried-out riverbed of the Jialing River in Chonqing on August 20.
Security officers stand in the dried-out riverbed of the Jialing River in Chonqing on August 20.
Photo: Mark Schiefelbein (AP)

Conditions in China are devastatingly hot and dry—and they’re dragging on. Government officials say that the heat the country has been experiencing for weeks is the most intense heat wave China has seen since modern records began in the early 1960s. The heat wave, which has now lasted for 72 days, has beaten out an earlier record of a 62-day hot streak set in 2013.

“Heatwaves in China have definitely become more common and more intense as well as longer in duration because of human-induced climate change,” climatologist Friederike Otto told Climate Home News.

The effects of the drought and heat wave have been widespread, from crop loss to the shutdown of factories due to low hydropower. Here’s a rundown of what’s happening.

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Temperatures Breaking Records

Temperatures Breaking Records

People swim in the Han River in Wuhan, Hubei Province, on August 19.
People swim in the Han River in Wuhan, Hubei Province, on August 19.
Photo: China Out (Getty Images)

The heat wave has been relentless, with many areas routinely seeing highs of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.9 degrees Celsius) or more. Tuesday was the 12th day in a row that Chinese officials issued a “red alert” for high temperatures, after officials said more than 60 weather stations across the country saw record-high temperatures on Sunday alone. On Wednesday, the threat level was finally downgraded to “orange.” However, temperatures in parts of the country were still extremely high: a weather station in Sichuan Province on Wednesday logged a record-high reading of 111 degrees Fahrenheit (43.9 degrees Celsius).

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Widespread Drought

Widespread Drought

People walk in the dry riverbed of the Jialing River, a tributary of the Yangtze, on August 20.
People walk in the dry riverbed of the Jialing River, a tributary of the Yangtze, on August 20.
Photo: Mark Schiefelbein (AP)

Rainfall since July has been around 45% lower than normal in the Yangtze basin, which covers almost one-fifth of China’s total land area and one-third of China’s total population. The Yangtze River, Asia’s biggest river, is so low that it’s sitting at around half of its usual width.

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Water Scarce

Water Scarce

Villagers get water from a fire truck in Suining in Sichuan province on August 23.
Villagers get water from a fire truck in Suining in Sichuan province on August 23.
Photo: Zhong Min/FCHNA (AP)

In addition to problems with the Yangtze, on Friday, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said that at least 66 rivers in 34 provinces in the country’s southwest had dried up. Last week, state media reported that fire trucks have had to deliver drinking water and irrigation water to villages outside the city of Chongqing. The Sichuan government said some 819,000 people could have shortages of drinking water, while the province of Hubei on Saturday declared a drought emergency.

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Hydropower at Risk

Hydropower at Risk

Boats on the dried-out riverbed on the Yangtze near Chongqing on August 16.
Boats on the dried-out riverbed on the Yangtze near Chongqing on August 16.
Photo: Chinatopix (AP)

Some 80% of Sichuan Province’s power comes from hydropower, and some reservoirs are at half capacity this month, the Sichuan Provincial Department of Economics and Information Technology said.

Chinese news outlets reported that the government has extended power rationing, which began last week, through this week. Earlier this week, CCTV reported that some shopping malls in Chongqing were forced to operate on a limited schedule to save electricity, opening to shoppers between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. Offices and malls also had lights, elevators, and air conditioning shut off, while subway stations dimmed their lights and a skyline in Shanghai went dark to save power.

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Factories Shutting Down

Factories Shutting Down

The dried-up riverbed of the Jialing on August 18.
The dried-up riverbed of the Jialing on August 18.
Photo: Ran Wen/FCHINA (AP)

Last week, as the grid was stretched increasingly thin, many factories in Sichuan province were ordered to shut down production for four days due to power cuts. A Tesla factory, as well as a factory belonging to SAIC Motor, China’s largest car manufacturer, had their production affected. Other factories, including some that make processor chips and parts for solar panels, were also ordered to close.

“Leave power for the people,” an order from the provincial government said Thursday.

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Islands, Relics Revealed in Water

Islands, Relics Revealed in Water

The Guanyin Temple on August 20. The large rock outcropping is normally covered by water.
The Guanyin Temple on August 20. The large rock outcropping is normally covered by water.
Photo: FeatureChina (AP)

Like other places in the world experiencing drought, low waters in the Yangtze have revealed some seldom-seen sights and surprising finds. In Chongqing, the plunging Yangtze levels have exposed three Buddhist statues carved into a usually underwater rock. Chinese media agency Xinhua reported that the statues were around 600 years old, probably built during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Meanwhile, Guanying Pavilion, a 700-year-old building that often looks like it’s floating right on the river, is sitting unusually high this year, its normally hidden rock base massively exposed with the Yangtze so low.

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Farmers Struggling

Farmers Struggling

A dried-out reservoir in Longquan village in Chongqing on August 20.
A dried-out reservoir in Longquan village in Chongqing on August 20.
Photo: Olivia Zhang (AP)

In Hubei, the government said 17 million acres of crops had been damaged or lost due to the drought. Xinhua reported that the drought was affecting some 36,700 hectares (90,690 acres) of land. On Tuesday, government agencies issued a warning that the crucial autumn grain harvest was under “severe threat” from the drought.

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High Temperatures ‘Are Very Annoying’

High Temperatures ‘Are Very Annoying’

Gan Bingdong at his community’s dried-up reservoir.
Gan Bingdong at his community’s dried-up reservoir.
Photo: Mark Schiefelbein (AP)

Gan Bingdong, a farmer who lives south of Chongqing, showed the AP how his persimmon trees have died, while his eggplant crop is puny; Gan said he had been forced to pump groundwater to water his crops after the reservoir he usually uses has run dry.

“This year’s high temperatures are very annoying,” Gan told the AP.

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Government Plans to Geoengineer

Government Plans to Geoengineer

A woman takes a photo on the low Yangtze in Chongqing on August 19.
A woman takes a photo on the low Yangtze in Chongqing on August 19.
Photo: Mark Schiefelbein (AP)

On Friday, the Chinese government said it would take steps to geoengineer enough precipitation to protect the fall grain crop, which accounts for 75% of the country’s total grain output. The AP reported that the Agricultural Ministry said on its website it would inject chemicals into the atmosphere to try to encourage rain, as well as spray crops with a special “water-retaining agent.”

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Wildfires Raging

Wildfires Raging

People sit in the riverbed of the Jialing on August 20.
People sit in the riverbed of the Jialing on August 20.
Photo: Mark Schiefelbein (AP)

On Monday, more than 1,500 people in Chongqing had to be evacuated due to brushfires that have been burning for days around the edges of the city. CNN reported that some city dwellers posted to social media about smelling smoke from inside their apartments; others posted photos of embers that had blown into their homes from the fires.

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