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Drought strikes hard in southern China
Updated: 2005-05-18 10:10

It's rice-planting season in China's southern province of Guangdong, but despite the landscape of flooded fields dotted with green seedlings, Lian is worried.

"There is not enough water. There's rain now, but it's still not enough. There's not enough water in the reservoir," she says squatting by the edge of a field, her trousers rolled to the knee and a broad straw hat hiding her eyes.

The province is recovering from its worst drought in 50 years, allowing farmers to begin sowing.

The drought in southern China has affected everything from crops and livelihoods to hydropower.

"Throughout history droughts have happened, but the frequency and level of severity are increasing because of climate change," said Yang Ailun, a Greenpeace climate and energy specialist based in the provincial capital of Guangzhou.

Even as the rainfall diminishes, consumption is growing ever higher.

A few kilometers (miles) outside of Guangzhou, smokestacks give way to fields and stylish city people are replaced by barefoot farmers.

But the lack of water is affecting both.

Crops are dying and fish farms drying up, while grid overloads last year forced factories to tap power only overnight, and led the government to ask restaurants and hotels to limit use of electric lights.

"In this part of Guangdong and the Pearl River Delta area, the population is increasing very fast. Through the 1990s, the economic boom has also driven up water consumption," said Ma Jun, an environmentalist and the author of "China's Water Crisis."

"The water consumption rise is staggering," he said.

Water use in Guangdong is about 1.4 times that in the rest of China, Ma said, due to an economy that expanded more than 14 percent last year, largely on the back of labor intensive industry and a population that boomed to 110 million as migrant workers poured in from other provinces.


Last year 1 million people in Guangdong did not have enough drinking water. In neighboring Guangxi province, 1,100 reservoirs went dry, state media reported.

"In the winter it was very serious. We have more than 200 mu here and there was no water. We made a lot less money last year. A lot of people left and went to work as laborers," said Tan, a farmer in Qingyuan region, about 70 km (44 miles) northwest of Guangzhou.

"It seems to get worse each year, but what can we do?"

In the first week of the New Year, Guangdong suffered three grid overloads and the province began restricting power supplies, saying the drought was partly responsible for daily power shortages of 500-600 megawatts.

Generating capacity in the province is forecast to fall short of demand by 3,000 to 5,000 MW over the next few years, the Economist Intelligence Unit says.

Greenpeace says the solution is renewable energy.

While China passed a law in February that would force power suppliers to buy more renewable energy and offer financial incentives to develop alternative power, for now wind power makes up less than 1 percent of Guangdong's grid.

By 2010, China plans to boost renewable energy to cover 10 percent of its needs, raising green capacity to 60,000 megawatts with a mix of hydropower and wind power.

But in the meantime, the region's farmers are watching their livelihoods waste away.

Lian's three children have all forsaken the land for jobs as construction workers in the city.

Balancing a bucket of seeds on her bicycle, a farmer surnamed Yang is also considering factory work to make ends meet.

"We don't earn any money if we don't have enough water," she said.

"Last year was worst. This year is still too early to see. But there is nothing we can do."

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