(Reuters) – SHANGHAI, Aug 19 – China has announced its first nationwide drought notice of the year, as officials battle forest fires and mobilize expert teams to safeguard crops in the Yangtze River region from scorching heat.
The nationwide ‘yellow warning,’ announced late Thursday, comes after weeks of excessive heat in places ranging from Sichuan in the southwest to Shanghai in the Yangtze delta, with government authorities constantly blaming global climate change. The notice falls two notches shy of Beijing’s most extreme warning.
Poyang Lake, one of the Yangtze’s main flood basins in central China’s Jiangxi province, has decreased to a fourth of its typical size for this time of year, according to state news agency Xinhua on Thursday.
According to official broadcaster CCTV, as many as 66 rivers in 34 counties in Chongqing’s southwestern area had dried up.
Rainfall in Chongqing this year is 60% lower than the seasonal average, and soil in numerous areas is badly dehydrated, according to CCTV, citing local government data.
Temperatures in the Beibei district, north of Chongqing’s metropolitan core, reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday, according to China’s meteorological agency.
Chongqing had six of the top ten warmest spots in the country on Friday morning, with temperatures in the Bishan district already surpassing 39 degrees Celsius. The temperature in Shanghai was already 37 degrees.
The infrastructure and emergency services in the Chongqing region have been put under growing strain, with firefighters on high alert as mountain and forest fires erupted across the region. Heatstroke instances have also increased, according to state media.
The gas provider in the Fulling district also informed customers on Friday that supplies will be turned off until further notice due to “severe safety issues.”
The Chongqing agriculture bureau has also formed specialist teams to preserve sensitive crops and increase planting to make up for losses before the autumn harvest.
To guarantee that supplies do not run out, the water resources ministry has directed drought-stricken agricultural regions to create rotas regulating who may use supplies at any one moment.
According to figures released late Thursday by China’s emergency ministry, high temperatures in July alone resulted in direct economic losses of 2.73 billion yuan ($400 million), affecting 5.5 million people.
Meanwhile, China’s National Meteorological Center (NMC) issued a high-temperature red alert for the 30th straight day on Friday, according to its Weibo channel. State forecasts also projected that the current heatwave would not end until August 26.
According to the meteorological service’s daily report, 4.5 million square kilometers of national territory – about half of the country’s entire size – have now experienced temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius or above during the last month, with more than 200 weather stations reaching record highs.