Dry, polluted, plagued by rats: The crisis in the Yangtze|
17 January 2008 10:26
The waters of the Yangtze have fallen to their lowest levels since 1866, disrupting
drinking supplies, stranding ships and posing a threat to some of the world's most
Asia's longest river is losing volume as a result of a
prolonged dry spell, the state media warned on Wednesday, predicting hefty economic losses
and a possible plague of rats on nearby farmland.
News of the drought -- which is likely to worsen pollution in the river -- comes amid dire
reports about the impact of rapid economic growth on China's environment.
The government also revealed on Wednesday that the country's most prosperous province,
Guangdong, has just had its worst year of smog since the Communist party took power in
1949, while 89 600 square kilometres of coastline waters failed to meet environmental
But the immediate concern is the Yangtze, which supplies water to hundreds of millions of
people and thousands of factories in a delta that accounts for more than 40% of China's
economic output. According to the Chinese media, precipitation and water levels are at or
near record lows in its middle and upper stretches.
The scale of the problem was revealed by the Yangtze water resources commission in a report
on the Xinhua news agency's website on Wednesday. It said that the Hankou hydrological
centre near Wuhan city found the river's depth had fallen to its lowest level in 142 years.
The measurement confirmed fears raised in recent weeks by the appearance of islands and
mud flats not normally seen at this time of year. Local farmers reported far more ships
than usual being trapped in unnavigable shallow waters.
Jianli county is among the areas suffering water shortages. Officials say the problem has
grown worse in the past decade, raising concerns of a link to climate change.
"Before 1996, we were short of water for three months of the year, but now there are only
three months when we can use water as normal," Wu Chunping, the vice-manager of Jianli
county's water utility, was quoted as saying by Xinhua. "I heard that the water level will
drop further in February."
Li Lifeng, director of the freshwater programme of WWF China, said: "The major worry is for
aquatic species and birds. If the water level goes too low they will lose a huge level of
Among the endangered animals likely to be affected are the finless porpoise and the Chinese
sturgeon, which returns to the sea at this time of year.
With the Yangtze three times as crowded with traffic as the Mississippi, conservationists
fear the animals will be torn up by boat propellers or contaminated by more concentrated
pollution from the 9 000 chemical plants along the Yangtze. Birds such as the Siberian
crane may also suffer from the impact on their wintering area.
Local media have expressed concern that the drought could lead to a plague of rats similar
to the one near Dongting lake last year after a drought was followed by fast-rising waters
that drove the vermin to seek food in farm fields. "When the waters fall, the reeds die and
the rats are driven inland in search of food," said an official in the Yueyang farming and
aquatic bureau who declined to give his name. - Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008
Original article: www.mg.co.za
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