China longest heatwave brings costlier eggs and more economic woes


A low grain yield is likely to force food prices to shoot up at a time when the Chinese economy is already struggling to revive after to its dynamic zero-COVID lockdowns that shut down its financial hub of Shanghai for two months.

Photo : REUTERS

China is going through its longest and most severe drought in six decades. As of Thursday, the country has endured 67 days of blistering temperatures which have touched 40 degrees and above on many days.
China recorded a similar heatwave in 2013 which lasted 62 days but the one sweeping over the country now has lasted longer and had begun earlier. China’s National Climate Center said in a statement: “The heat wave this time is prolonged, wide in scope, and strong in extremity. Taken all signs together, the heat wave in China will continue and its intensity will increase.”

The extreme temperatures are expected to prevail another week at least.

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It is not only the people who are suffering the searing heat; the economy is also under strain due to the climate.

How does climate affect the economy?

The rising mercury has created drought-like conditions in many parts of China as its longest river (and the longest in Asia) – the Yangtze – has dried up by 20 per cent. The river basin experienced the lowest rainfall in six decades impacting drinking water supply, electricity supply and irrigation.

Yangtze waters are a lifeline for about a third of the vast country. The Chinese government has said that many regions in the river’s basin did not receive rains for more than 20 days.

Many of China’s most important grain-producing regions like Hunan, Hubei and Henan provinces lie along the river. Hunan yields a major portion of China’s rice and with crippling heatwave, drought and the autumn harvest just 50 days away it is likely to impact production.

The grain yield in northeast China has suffered a crisis too in the form of devastating floods, the opposite of what southern China is facing for days.

A low grain yield is likely to force food prices to shoot up at a time when the Chinese economy is already struggling to revive after to its dynamic zero-COVID lockdowns that shut down its financial hub of Shanghai for two months. A mortgage crisis is further deteriorating the real estate sector. China’s economic woes at this point are many.

Even poultry farms are hit. Reports say that hens are feeding less on hot days and as a result laying fewer eggs. The drop in supply of eggs in several provinces has made eggs costlier in recent days. According to the US Department of Agriculture, sustained exposure to extreme temperatures can exacerbate losses in production from animals, including eggs and milk.

China’s Sichuan province has started rationing power supply since 80 per cent of the region is dependent on hydropower. Residents are being favored over industries, in another blow to the economy. The local government has ordered industries in 19 out of 21 cities in the province to suspend production until Saturday (August 13) so that power supply could be prioritised for residents, according to a notice issued Sunday. Sichuan, the lithium hub, had to close factories triggering worries about supply of the essential component for batteries that run electronic devices.

Production had suffered earlier as well, when Chinese cities took measures to protect residents from the extreme weather and power crunch.

Provinces including Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui also issued electricity curbs for industrial users, local media reported.

The official Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday that in eastern China’s Jiangxi province 11,000 people had difficulty accessing drinking water while more than 140,000 hectares of crops were damaged.

The unprecedented heatwave has also impacted tourism adversely. The iconic 71-metre tall giant Buddha of Leshan located in Sichuan province closed off access to the statue’s feet area due to high temperature.

Chishui waterfall in Zunyi City in southwest China’s Guizhou province closed the spot to tourists since the upper stream of the waterfall had dried up.

Saving the harvest

China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has dispatched working groups to drought hit areas to protect the harvest, Xinhua reported on Sunday. As much as 75 per cent of China’s total grain output comes from the autumn crops.

Many provinces in China have begun cloud seeding – a practice in which silver iodide rods are shot into existing clouds to help them crystallise and precipitate as rain. The technique has often been used in China.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Water Resources reported by Global Times, as of Tuesday, a total of 830,000 people in six provincial-level regions, including Sichuan, Chongqing, Hubei and Hunan, are impacted by drought. As much as 9644,666 hectares of crops are affected.

The government will have to spend huge amounts of money on relief measures and make a concerted effort at protecting harvests or it risks plunging the economy into a deeper crisis.

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