China’s autumn harvest is under “serious threat” due to high temperatures and drought, authorities warned, vowing on Wednesday to take new measures to protect crops ahead of the country’s hottest summer yet.
The world’s second-largest economy has been hit this summer by record heatwaves, flash floods and droughts — phenomena that scientists say are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change.
The Ministry of Agriculture said southern China had recorded its longest continuous period of high temperatures since records began more than 60 years ago.
Four government departments called for “every unit of water” to be conserved to protect crops.
“The rapid development of the drought, accompanied by high temperatures and heat damage, has caused a serious threat to the production of autumn crops,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
China produces more than 95 percent of the rice, wheat and corn it consumes, but a reduced crop could mean increased demand for imports in the world’s most populous country, putting additional pressure on global supplies already strained by the conflict in Ukraine.
State media reported late Wednesday that the government had pledged 10 billion yuan ($1.45 billion) to ensure a good rice harvest this fall.
A meeting of Beijing’s State Council, chaired by Premier Li Keqiang, agreed that the government should “do an even better job of combating and mitigating the drought,” CCTV reported.
Officials also called for “a combination of measures to increase water sources to combat the drought, primarily to provide drinking water for people, provide water for agricultural irrigation and guide farmers to combat drought and protect autumn crops,” he added.
Temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) led to blackouts in many Chinese provinces as cities struggled to cope with a surge in electricity demand, caused in part by people turning on air conditioners.
The heat broke records in Sichuan province, which recorded a temperature of 43.9 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) on Wednesday afternoon, the provincial Meteorological Center said in a statement.
The megacities of Shanghai and Chongqing switched off outdoor decorative lighting, while authorities in Sichuan imposed industrial blackouts after water levels fell at key hydroelectric power plants.
The searing heat is also drying up the critical Yangtze River, with water flow in its main stem about 50 percent lower than the average over the past five years, state media China News Service reported last week.
– “The worst heat in history” –
In Chongqing, where more than 1,500 people were evacuated from areas hit by multiple forest fires, local residents struggled.
“I’m too hot to sleep every night and the heat wakes me up every morning,” Xu Jinxin, a 20-year-old student, told AFP.
“Because of the electricity shortage, we don’t leave the air conditioner on all day, but turn it off as soon as it cools down a bit.”
The National Weather Service renewed drought and heat warnings on Tuesday, urging governments in 11 provinces to step up their emergency response.
In some parts of the country, authorities have resorted to cloud seeding, a method of inducing precipitation.
This month, CCTV released footage showing weather workers firing catalyst rockets into the sky and firefighters delivering water to farmers in need.
On Wednesday, he also shared images of water trucks supplying people to villages in Sichuan and the Chongqing area in a bid to address shortages.
“People with water supply problems in rural areas of Chongqing are mainly concentrated in mountain towns and relatively remote areas,” according to CCTV.
“This is the worst heatwave ever recorded,” climate and energy expert Liu Junyan of Greenpeace East Asia told AFP.
“Climate science shows that extreme heat is getting worse,” she said.
“So next year is more likely to be record hot.”
The extreme weather is raising public awareness of climate change in China, and state-run media are “now scrambling to cover climate impacts” with unprecedented urgency, Liu said.
Government climate expert Zhou Bing warned over the weekend of mass population displacement caused by climate change, calling the extreme weather nature’s “revenge” on humanity.
China has experienced three other extreme heat episodes this century, in 2003, 2013 and 2017.
According to Zhou, the gap between heat waves is “shrinking significantly”.
For those living through the hot summer, “life goes on with a certain endurance,” said Xu, a student from Chongqing.