China issues first nationwide drought alert in 9 years

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Beijing CNN  — 

Chinese authorities issued a nationwide drought warning for the first time in nine years as the country copes withbelow-average rainfall and one of the strongest heat waves seen in six decades.

The “yellow” alert, which was issued Friday, is the third-highest on China’s four-tier scale. It indicates that at least two provinces are facing drought-like conditions, and more dry weather or drought is expected.

China’s meteorological agency said Friday that at least 244 cities across the country could see temperatures rise above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), while another 407 could see the mercury rise to more than 37C (98F). Forecasters expect the heat wave to could continue for another week, while the next three days will see little rain and continued drought development.

As of Wednesday, about 830,000 people across six provinces have had their water supplies affected by drought conditions, according to the Ministry of Water Resources. More than 300,000 people are experiencing temporary difficulties even accessing drinking water. It’s a significant number of people impacted, but a fraction of China’s population of 1.4 billion.

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Provinces in southern and central China – especially those along the Yangtze River, such as Jiangsu, Hubei and Sichuan – are the most affected. Local officials have been advised to conserve water supplies for domestic purposes and reduce agricultural, commercial and industrial use. Authorities are also trying to seed clouds to make it rain.

The drought has affected more than 2 million acres worth of farmland in six provinces, a water ministry official said Wednesday.

The extreme heat has caused a spike in demand for air conditioning in offices and homes, putting pressure on the power grid. The drought has also depleted river water levels, reducing the amount of electricity produced at hydropower plants.

Sichuan, a province of 84 million people, has been gripped by extreme heat and drought since July. On Wednesday, Sichuan authorities ordered factories to shut for six days to ease heat-related power shortages.

Experts worry that the power rationing in a key manufacturing hub for semiconductors and solar panels could affect some of the world’s biggest electronics companies, including Intel and Foxconn.

Economists have also warned that the extreme temperatures could further drag down the world’s second-largest economy, which is already dealing with the effects of its strict Covid-19 lockdowns and a real estate crisis. Both Goldman Sachs and financial services firm Nomura lowered their forecasts for China’s GDP growth this year, citing in part the heat wave.

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