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September 25, 2017

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Central China drought worst in more than 50 years: reports

BEIJING -- Central China's worst drought in more than 50 years is drying reservoirs, stalling rice planting, and threatens crippling power shortages as hydroelectric plants lie idle, state media said Wednesday.

Rainfall levels from January to April in the drainage basin of the Yangtze, China's longest and most economically important river, have been 40 percent lower than average levels of the past 50 years, the China Daily said.

The national flood and drought control authority has ordered the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric project which lies on the river, to increase its discharge of water by 10 to 20 percent for the next two weeks.

The measure is aimed at sending badly needed water to the Yangtze's middle and lower reaches for drinking and irrigation.

Water-marks in more than 1,300 reservoirs in Hubei province, where the dam is located, have dropped below allowable discharge levels for irrigation, the paper quoted Yuan Junguang, Hubei's reservoir management director, as saying.

Rainfall in some areas is up to 80 percent lower than usual while the provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi and Zhejiang along with Shanghai municipality are mired in their worst droughts since 1954.

"Without adequate water, we lost the spring planting season for rice," Hubei farmer Zhou Xingtao was quoted as saying.

It said many other farmers in Hubei have lost their existing crops or given up on planting summer rice, fearing the emergency water supplies will be inadequate to sustain their fields, with more hot and dry weather forecast.

China — and the Yangtze river region in particular — is prone to the alternating threats of crippling drought followed by devastating flooding.

Just last summer, sustained torrential rainfall across the Yangtze basin and beyond caused widespread flooding and even some concern over whether the giant Three Gorges Dam would be able to contain the deluge.

More than 3,000 people were reported killed in the flooding and related landslides.

Nearly every year, some part of China suffers its worst drought in decades, and meteorological officials have said previously the extreme weather is possibly due to climate change.

The State Grid, China's state-owned power distributor, reportedly said this week that 10 of its provincial-level power grids were suffering severe shortages due to the drought's impact on hydroelectric generation, including Shanghai and the heavily populated southwestern Chongqing region.

The company said China could face a summer electricity shortage of 30 gigawatts — the most severe power shortfall since 2004.

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