Wednesday, June 1, 2011

China's "land of fish and rice" parched by drought

The drought gripping stretches of central and eastern China has dried Lake Honghu into an expanse of exposed mud, stranded boats and dying fish farms, threatening the livelihoods of residents in Hubei Province who call this their "land of fish and rice."

Dry spells and floods blight various parts of China nearly every year, and officials are prone to call each the worst in 50 years or longer.

But many residents around the lake said that was a fitting label for the months-long drought that has drastically shrunk the lake, the adjacent Yangtze River, and many other lakes and tributaries along the mighty river's course through farming and industrial heartlands.

"I've never, ever seen it this bad. Look at the rice. It's all going yellow and the stalks will die unless we get some rain soon," said Ouyang Jinghuang, a pepper-haired 66-year-old farmer tending rice paddies near Lake Honghu.

"We're all digging wells and buying our drinking water. Usually, we have so much water here that we worry about floods, not droughts."

The dry spell is a jarring reminder of how China, the world's second-biggest economy, relies on increasingly strained water resources to feed its people and power rapidly increasing numbers of hydro stations. (read more)