China sounds Red Alert as biggest freshwater lake goes dry

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The central Chinese province of Jiangxi has declared a red alert as drought conditions worsened the water levels in the country’s biggest freshwater lake. Poyang lake has dwindled to a record low, which is also a vital flood outlet for the Yangtze, China’s longest river.

The Yangtze has been facing the consequences of one of the worst droughts experienced by several parts of China in the 21st century. Water levels at a key monitoring spot in the Yangtze have fallen from 19.43 meters to 7.1 meters over the last three months. The drought spell began in June this year.

The red alert was declared by the Jiangxi government as the Water Monitoring Centre pointed out that Poyang’s water levels would fall even further in the coming days, with rainfall still minimal. According to a report in Reuters, rainfall since July is 60% lower than a year earlier, and 267 weather stations across China reported record temperatures in August.

An aerial view shows dead fish littering the shore as local villager Ye Fa catches fish in a pool of water left by Poyang Lake that shows record-low water levels as the region experiences a drought outside Nanchang. (Photo: Reuters)

This year’s heat wave began on June 13 and didn’t officially end until Aug. 30, driven by an unusually large and intense Western Pacific Subtropical Highweather system stretching over large parts of Asia. Xiao Chan, vice director of China’s National Meteorological Center, had earlier this week said that the duration, intensity, extent, and impact of the heat wave made it the biggest since records began in 1961.

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While rains in much of southwest China have brought some relief, several regions in central China continue to suffer under the impact of drought. Reuters reported that the extremely dry conditions have now stretched to more than 70 days in Jiangxi. A total of 10 reservoirs in neighbouring Anhui province have fallen below the “dead pool” level, meaning they are unable to discharge water downstream.

China’s southwest was the worst hit, with temperatures reaching highs of 45C in parts of the region of Chongqing. Neighbouring Sichuan province also saw big declines in hydroelectric generation, forcing power rationing throughout the region. However, parts of the central Yangtze basin still remain stricken by drought, including the provinces of Hubei, Jiangxi, and Hunan.

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