China is planning to release chemicals to force rain to fall as it tries to save grain harvests during its hottest summer in more than 60 years.
The move to carry out “cloud seeding” follows weeks of extreme heat, which government officials have blamed on climate change. Temperatures of 40C were expected in Shanghai today. The country issued a nationwide drought alert on Friday.
Water levels in the Yangtze, China’s longest river, are at a record low. In the southwestern region of Chongqing, through which the Yangtze flows, as many as 66 rivers have dried up and firefighters have had to douse mountain and forest fires.
China’s largest freshwater lake, Poyang Lake, which is fed by rivers that connect to the Yangtze, has shrunk to a quarter of its normal size for this time of year.
This week will be “key” to resist and reduce damage to rice crops in southern China, according to Tang Renjian, an agriculture minister quoted in state media over the weekend.
Authorities will try to increase rainfall by seeding clouds with silver iodide and will spray crops with a “water-retaining agent” to reduce evaporation, according to the agriculture ministry’s website.
It’s not the first time China has used cloud-seeding technologies to force the elements. China is vulnerable to droughts and regularly induces rain in dry areas to increase crop production, as well as clear the skies ahead of major events, such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
China is suffering its longest heatwave — it began in mid June — since records began in 1961. Low rainfall is scuppering the autumn grain harvest, which accounts for 75 percent of China’s annual total. The drought threatens to raise global good prices.
Shrinking water levels in the Yangtze have also revealed surprises in the form of centuries-old Buddhist statues. A monk sitting on a lotus pedestal and two other statues believed to be 600 years old have been found on a previously submerged island, state media said.
As well as widespread damage to crops, the low rainfall has caused severe power shortages. To try to alleviate the impact, China has shut down thousands of factories in Sichuan province, which depends on hydropower for 80 percent of its energy. Reservoirs are at half their normal water levels and the provincial government says more than 800,000 face a shortage of drinking water.
Factories that make solar panels, processor chips and other goods in the southwestern province were expected to see a six-day shutdown extended until Thursday.
The crunch comes as the global supply chain remains stretched after COVID closed manufacturing hubs.
The latest shutdowns were ostensibly to save power for homes — and air-conditioning — as temperatures soared to 45C. But offices and shopping centers in Sichuan were ordered to switch off their own air-conditioning and lights to save power.
The underground metro in Sichuan’s capital city, Chengdu, dimmed thousands of lights in stations, leaving travelers in partial darkness.
The disruption comes on the heels of the COVID lockdowns in China this year, which led to a sharp slowdown in the country’s growth in the second quarter.
Food and power shortages will add to the pressures on President Xi Jinping ahead of a key political meeting later this year when he is expected to secure an unprecedented third term as leader.
As southern China deals with record-low rainfall, other parts of China were battling with too much water.
Floods caused by heavy rainfall in the northwest province of Qinghai have killed at least 25 people, authorities said Sunday.
The Daily Telegraph