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Explained: How China is dealing with a record heatwave and severe drought

The record-breaking temperatures and severe drought have dented energy and water supplies for millions across China and stoked fears of an economic downturn. Here is how China is dealing with the climate crisis.

In this aerial photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, water flows through chanels in the lake bed of Poyang Lake, China's largest freshwater lake, in eastern China's Jiangxi Province, Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. (Via AP)

For more than two months, China has been grappling with its worst heatwave in over 60 years, with temperatures in several regions crossing 40 degrees celsius this month. The record-breaking temperatures and severe drought have dented energy and water supplies for millions across the country and stoked fears of a devastating economic downturn.

On Tuesday morning, the country issued a red alert heat warning — the highest of its four-tier warning system — to at least 165 cities and counties across the country. China’s weather department has predicted temperatures to soar past the 40-degree mark in several of these regions over the next few days. China’s Central Meteorological Observatory has advised people to avoid outdoor activity and to limit work as temperature levels continue to rise.

The country has been rolling out a slew of measures to conserve energy and combat the drought. From switching off advertising lights in public places to inducing rain, Chinese authorities have left no stone unturned in their bid to undo some of the damage done in the last few weeks.

So, what’s happening in China?

Since early July, China has been dealing with record-breaking temperatures that have resulted in widespread power outages and also disrupted crop growth in some regions.

Widespread power outages

Perhaps one of the most concerning outcomes of the recent heatwave were the power crunches witnessed across the country. The power outages in recent weeks sparked concerns of a potential rerun of last year’s electricity crunch during the pandemic which took a major toll on China’s major manufacturing hubs. Many cities in southwestern China have been compelled to cut power to factories this week.

But many experts believe this time is different. Analysts told CNBC that the outages are unlikely to stretch beyond the summer months. Since the shortage is largely caused due to the weather, the situation is expected to improve once temperatures begin to drop.

In the meantime, efforts are on to restore power in China’s towns and cities. In Sichuan, power supplies to factories have been cut and rerouted to households. Government offices in the city have been directed to keep air conditioning levels at no lower than 26 degrees celsius, according to a Reuters report.

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Meanwhile, Shanghai authorities have switched off lights at some of the city’s most popular sites to conserve power. Businesses have been directed to stagger their use of electricity and several outdoor construction projects have been haled, CGTN reported.

In this aerial photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Luoxingdun Island is seen in the dried lake bed of Poyang Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake, in eastern China’s Jiangxi Province on Aug. 17, 2022. (Via AP)

Rivers dry up

Last week, the country issued its first national drought alert of the year, after areas like Shanghai, the Yangtze Delta region and Sichuan province in southwest China reported weeks of severe heat. Sichuan in particular is dependent on hydropower systems for over 80 per cent of its energy. The hydropower deficit has also impacted regions like Chongqing city and Hubei province.

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The drought has also adversely impacted shipping. The Yangtze, the world’s third largest river, is one of China’s central waterways. It also provides water to over 400 million Chinese people. This summer, water has dropped to record levels, posing a threat to the global supply chain as well as limiting the water supply for millions of Chinese people.

About 2.2 m hectare of agricultural land has been affected in Sichuan, Chongqing, Hebei, Hunan, Anhui and Jiangxi, according to a report by The Guardian.

Amid the ongoing heatwave, wildfires have also swept across forests and mountains in multiple districts across the Southwest city of Chongqing, with over 1,500 residents relocated to safe zones, CNN reported.

In some parts of southwest and central China, including Hubei, authorities are attempting to induce rainfall through ‘cloud seedings’ — a process through which rockets carry chemicals into the sky to induce rainfall in drought-affected regions. However, in areas lacking cloud cover, authorities have struggled with this method.

Why is this happening?

China isn’t the only country dealing with a catastrophic rise in temperatures. Across Europe, several countries have been reporting unusually high temperatures in recent weeks. The obvious cause for the simultaneous heat waves across the world is climate change.

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Climate change has caused heatwaves to become both more frequent and more severe. As long as human beings continue to burn fossil fuels and destroy carbon storing ecosystems, heatwaves are here to stay and likely to get worse, experts say. At present, the world is about 1.1-1.3 degrees warmer than during pre-industrial times.

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But what is causing these heat waves to occur at the same time in different parts of the world? According to a New York Times report, studies suggest that climate change may be changing the movement of jet streams, or the air currents in the upper atmosphere that control weather patterns, in a way that causes extreme heat in multiple places at once.

First published on: 23-08-2022 at 10:41:14 pm
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