By David L. Brown
The news from China, with a population of more than one billion and rising, is not good. Drought and other climate-related disasters are dogging the Middle Kingdom just when it needs to ramp up its agricultural base to satisfy the desire of its masses for a better standard of living.
According to a report on BBC.com today (read it here), China is experiencing its worst drought in 50 years. Quoting the state news agency Xinhua, BBC said that:
“the south-western region of Chongqing has been worst hit, but areas of Sichuan and Liaoning are also affected. In Chongqing there has been no rain for more than 70 days, and two-thirds of the rivers have dried up, Xinhua said.”
Nor is the drought the only symptom of climate change in China this year. According to The Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs, in 2006 China has “faced its most severe natural disasters for six years.” The report went on to say:
By 15 August this year, natural disasters had killed 2,006 people, affected more than 316m others and caused economic losses of 160bn yuan ($20bn), the ministry estimated, according to Xinhua.
Earlier this year, some parts of China were hit by heavy snowfall, while in recent months there have been several deadly typhoons, each killing hundreds of people.
This drought is again affecting millions of people. According to Xinhua, 10m people in Sichuan, nearly 8m in Chongqing and 600,000 in Liaoning do not have enough access to drinking water at the moment.
The problem has also affected huge areas of farmland, with crop failures and the death of cattle.
The Chinese have been attempting to build a Western-style economy on its ancient agrarian foundations. Billions are being spent to “modernize” the country, which could be a mistake in what is now being called the “post-modern era.” In reality what China has set out to do looks more like trying to emulate the West of a century ago, building highways and internal combustion automobiles just as those things are becoming less desirable or sustainable.
The realities of climate change, pollution and resource depletion pose serious threats to this plan. Desertification is spreading in many parts of the country, water shortages are looming ever larger, air and water pollution have become serious problems … and the population bomb just keeps on ticking away. The recent drought is a grim reminder of just how vulnerable the Middle Kingdom can be in the face of global changes. China has in the past faced horrendous famines. Could it be in for more? To us, it seems inevitable.