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China hit by drought, floods, as Yangtze River runs dry

Rescue workers evacuate residents Aug. 18 after flash flooding triggered mudslides in Xining in western China's Qinghai province. (CNS/AFP/Getty Images)
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China is suffering its worst drought on record as soaring temperatures dry up key parts of the Yangtze River, damaging crops and limiting drinking-water supplies in some central and southern communities.

At the same time, other parts of the country are suffering under an opposite extreme. In the western province of Qinghai, heavy rain has driven floods and landslides, leaving at least 16 people dead and 18 missing, state media reported.

Some rivers were running so high that they changed course, contributing to floods affecting more than 6,200 people, Reuters reported.

In the drought-hit regions, a prolonged heat wave has exacerbated conditions, authorities said.

Chinese officials this week announced what they said were several new measures to help alleviate the impact, including financial aid, cloud seeding and shutdowns of some energy-intensive industries.

China shuts factories, rations electricity as heat wave stifles economy

In Hubei, in central China, authorities said 4.2 million people were found to have been affected by the drought. The southwestern province of Sichuan, which relies heavily on hydropower, also ordered factories in 19 cities and prefectures to halt operations until Saturday to preserve electricity for the public.

The temperature in the neighboring district of Chongqing hit a record 113 degrees Fahrenheit, China’s National Meteorological Center said Thursday — the highest temperature recorded in the country outside of Xinjiang, a desert region in the northwest. The county of Xinwen recorded 110 degrees, which set a provincial record for Sichuan.

In China, a pattern of extreme heat with flooding at the edges of the country has persisted over much of the summer. As a result, a heat dome has formed, pumping moisture into areas to the west. That moisture has been wrung out as flooding rain in recent weeks, only to worsen as temperatures rise.

The crisis follows years of expert warnings that China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, would face extreme weather events as a result. Both extreme heat and heavy rainfalls are hallmarks of climate change induced by human activity. Episodes of both weather have been frequent across the Northern Hemisphere this summer.

Beijing has presented itself as a leading force in tackling climate change but has also continued to build coal-fired power plants that produce carbon dioxide, mercury and other harmful emissions. On Tuesday, Jin Xiandong, a spokesman for the National Development and Reform Commission, said that the lack of hydropower output has temporarily increased the country’s reliance on coal.

The Three Gorges Dam, China’s biggest hydropower project, said it would increase water discharges in the coming days to aid downstream basins, Reuters reported.

China’s summer floods and heat waves fuel plans for a changing climate

In Hubei, the province’s emergency department also said this week that nearly 400,000 hectares (990,000 acres) of crops have already been damaged and that more than 150,000 people now have only limited access to drinking water. The local government will also attempt to seed clouds, a process that involves shooting silver iodide rods into the sky to kick-start fresh rainfall.

But in some regions along the Yangtze, cloud coverage appeared too thin for seeding, CNN reported.

China has practiced weather manipulation in the past, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when 21 government-run stations fired rockets at clouds above the open-air Bird’s Nest stadium to stop rainfall during the Opening Ceremonies.

The nationwide heat wave is showing no signs of abating and probably will persist for the next week or two.