Human factors blamed as lake shrinks to a puddle

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 May, 2011, 12:00am


Residents around China's biggest freshwater lake, Poyang, blame human factors for exacerbating the lingering drought.

The non-weather factors included the Three Gorges Dam, lack of government spending to repair old irrigation facilities and widespread pollution, residents said, adding that they had been caught unprepared and were suffering badly.

The area of Poyang Lake, in Jiangxi province, has shrunk by 87 per cent, and the centre of the lake has become a grassland. Worse, rice seedlings that villagers planted in the spring have died because of the shortage of irrigation water.

'Seedlings ... die without enough water and we had to plant them again last week after the rain to try our luck,' Changhu villager Gong Jiliu said. 'That's the sole source of income for my family, but we can do nothing but pray for rain.'

The central government admitted last week that the Three Gorges Dam had seriously affected navigation, irrigation and water supplies in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River.

'It took every one of us in my village by surprise that we have been hit hard by the drought,' said Li Rongde , the head of Yangjiagang in Hukou county, where the Poyang flows into the Yangtze.

Li said the flood-prone village, a provincial cotton base, had never suffered water shortages in the past.

'We used to have a lot of rainfall during this season, when water levels at the lake were usually high,' he said. 'But things have changed quite dramatically this year and we all believe it must have a lot to do with the Three Gorges. We are having great difficulty getting safe and adequate drinking water from the Yangtze, which has dropped to a historical low recently.'

Yangjiagang had to install a 500-metre pipe through which to pump 80 tonnes of Yangtze water a day to provide fresh water for more than 300 families. 'We know the water from the river may not be very clean to drink these days, but we can only afford to use some basic methods to treat it, such as disinfectants,' Li said.

Problems with poorly maintained irrigation facilities built mostly in the 1980s had aggravated the drought. 'It would take about 800,000 yuan (HK$958,000) to repair the irrigation works in the village and it's simply too expensive for us,' Li said.

Villagers have to walk a long distance every day to carry water from the drying lake to irrigate their cotton and vegetable fields.

Although conditions have eased slightly in the past few days with the release of water from the Three Gorges Dam and a heavy downpour in the province, there is little sign that the long dry spell will end soon.

China's National Meteorological Centre said yesterday there would be little rain in the next two days along the lower and middle reaches of the Yangtze and dry weather would continue to persist in spite of scattered drizzle in some places.

It urged relevant authorities to employ 'emergency water sources' and to prioritise water supply for residents and industrial production.

Villagers said they were worried about the harvest. 'The drought has thrown our hopes for the harvest into big doubt as crops grow a lot slower than normal years without proper irrigation,' Zhang Xiarong , of the nearby village of Jiangxin, said.

Li was also concerned that more than 5,000 cotton fields in the village would be lost if the drought did not ease next month.

Yu Cainan , a Communist Party cadre in the Shahushan township government, said farmers remained the group most vulnerable to such natural disasters as droughts and floods despite the government's repeated pledges about building a modern agricultural sector. 'Sad but true, we still depend largely on heaven for food as we don't have the necessary means to cope with droughts like this,' he said.

Pollution discharged from several chemical factories had damaged the environment around the national reserve and aggravated the water shortage, he said.