Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Drought in China

The China drought and its implications

What has caused the China drought in recent months? China's increasing role in carbon emissions and global warming are well-known fixtures in the international news,
less well known is that the country is home to numerous signs of climate change. Many of these indicators of climate change in China can be found in water issues, specifically drought and desertification.

While China's glaciers are shrinking, its deserts are expanding. Almost one-third of China's land area was desert to start with, but the Gobi Desert is observed as adding an extra 950 to 1000 square miles per year. The encroachment of the Gobi Desert is driving the increasing frequency of sandstorms in Beijing. A completely new desert has developed on the edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and has been growing since 2000.

Starting in 2001, the Chinese government started what it called a "Great Wall of Green" project, aimed to halt the encroaching desert. The first phase is almost finished, consisting of an effort to rebuild 9 million acres of forest wiped out during past periods of China drought. The $8 billion price tag indicates how serious the Chinese takes the threat of desertification.

Climate change and drought in China

A related problem is the increase in dry weather in China. 2007 saw 300,000 people in Northwestern China without drinking water because of climate change-driven unseasonably warm weather and China drought.
The next year brought the worst drought in more than a decade to the Yangtze area that caused the river to drop to such a level that dozens of river transports were stranded.

Although certainly aggravated by the reduction of water flowing down the river due to the build-up of the Three Gorges Dam reservoir, the lack of rain and other climate change-driven conditions were undoubtedly serious. 2009 continued after a drought affected eight provinces, destroying crops and leaving 4 million people without access to water.

Over the last 50 years, dams and irrigation projects have all but halted the course of the Yellow River, which contributes to much of China's agricultural productivity. The entire river valley is now threatening to simply dry up because of China drought. In 1997, the Yellow River's lower reaches were blocked for 230 days of the year of the Yellow River. All of these problems developed between the late 1980s and late 1990s, and there has been little improvement since.

The Chinese government regularly produces plans to contain or cut China's various environmental problems, including China drought. There is a great deal of cynicism regarding these plans, which is not surprising given the history of corruption in China, and the often indifferent implementation of environmental protection schemes. However, that the government takes at least the desertification threat seriously is demonstrated by the Great Wall of Green. When completed, it will have become the largest environmental protection plan in history.