Heat and drought maintain grip with no relief in sight
Heatwave, water shortages have affected many industries including tourism
China's worst drought in more than 50 years shows no signs of abating in the next few days, the government said yesterday, as a researcher warned that water shortages could one day threaten national security.
The Central Meteorological Office forecast continuing high temperatures of 38 to 40 degrees Celsius in Sichuan province and Chongqing municipality , the worst-affected areas.
More than 18 million people now lack drinking water because of the drought, Xinhua said, though that figure includes 15 provinces and regions suffering arid conditions. Water shortages in China had become 'an unavoidable issue threatening national security', Xinhua quoted He Shaoling , a researcher at the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research, as saying.
In Chongqing, the government said it might delay the beginning of the school year for elementary and middle school students if high temperatures continue to September 1.
Public transport companies had placed blocks of ice in buckets on buses, while volunteers sought donations for people in affected areas. The impact is worse in Chongqing's rural areas, where some residents are now wholly reliant on government deliveries of drinking water. The city estimates the heatwave, which has lasted for nearly two months in some areas, has left 7.7 million people facing drinking water shortages and caused about 3.4 billion yuan in economic damage. Damage to agriculture alone is estimated at 2.2 billion yuan, local media reported yesterday.
Neighbouring Sichuan estimates 4.8 million people are suffering water shortages, while economic losses have reached 887 million yuan.
One of Chongqing's affected industries has been tourism, given the city's role as the gateway to the scenic Three Gorges. At the city's main wharf, the boats are still running downstream, but even the tourism agencies are warning customers it might be better to wait.
'Ships are available, but the temperature is over 40 degrees Celsius. It is better to come after next week,' said an employee of Blue Sky Travel Co.
Below Chaotianmen Wharf, the normally crowded bank of the Yangtze River is deserted in the midday sun except for a few people swimming for relief. 'It's too hot. I've come here for a bath,' said one man as he stripped to his underwear and waded through the mud.
The water level on the Yangtze, the country's longest river, has fallen to below five metres in some parts of Chongqing. Still, smaller boats continue to carry cargo, including shipping containers filled with goods.
Hundreds of residents have found a unique way to cool down, crowding around the entrance of an old air raid shelter which was used to seek cover from Japanese planes bombing the city during the second world war.
Families sit on mats along a concrete walkway stretching 100 metres, hoping to catch the breeze emanating from the shelter, which is cut deep into a hill. 'You have to get here early to get a good spot,' one man said.