China has issued a nationwide drought alert for the first time in almost a decade.

Months of below-average rainfall and extreme heat have already hindered the ability of hydroelectric power plants to generate electricity, dried up parts of the nation’s longest river, triggered grassland and forest fires, and forced citizens into old air-raid shelters in attempts to escape the heat.

Almost 1 million people have had their water supplies impacted, CNN reports, while over 300,000 citizens are currently struggling to source safe drinking water. Areas along the Yangtze river in central and eastern China — namely the Jiangsu, Hubei, and Sichuan provinces — are experiencing the worst of the extreme weather events.

"Since July this year, the province has faced the most extreme high temperatures, the lowest rainfall in the corresponding period in history ... [and] the highest power load in history," local authorities in Sichuan explained Monday, according to Channel News Asia.

Over 60 rivers in Sichuan’s Chongqing municipality have entirely dried up, with average rainfall in the region down 80%.

Chongqing’s Beibei district, meanwhile, saw temperatures exceed 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) last week.

Scorching temperatures have driven up power use as reliance on air conditioning skyrockets.

Simultaneously, renewable hydropower production has been cut in half due to low water levels, with coal-fired power plants forced to make up demand. Affected cities, including Sichuan’s capital Chengdu and Shanghai, have temporarily closed some factories and cut the use of train lights and street lamps in an effort to save power.

In early August, China's weather bureau claimed the frequency of extreme weather events like the current drought and heat wave would only increase over the coming years. The bureau added that China is particularly susceptible to the detrimental effects of climate change.

"The global average temperature in 2021 is 1.11 degrees Celsius higher than that in pre-industrial levels. The warming rate in China is remarkably faster than the global average level in the same period,” the Meteorological Administration wrote. “From 1951 to 2021, the average annual surface temperature in China increased by 0.26 degrees Celsuis every decade.”

China remains the world’s largest energy consumer, producer, and importer.

Last year, the nation’s CO2 emissions hit almost 12 billion tonnes, accounting for one-third of the global total.


Defend the Planet

China Declares Nationwide Drought Warning for First Time in 9 Years

By Madeleine Keck