It has felt much warmer living in Beijing this winter than in recent years. The capital witnessed its first snow a bit late in 2007, 10 days later than in previous years. Its average temperature for the last two months of 2007-usually the prelude to the coldest season-was measured at 2-3 degrees Centigrade higher than normal.
Statistics from the China Meteorological Administration revealed that temperatures last year broke a record in terms of warmth over more than a half decade. The yearly temperature averaged at 10.6 degrees Centigrade nationwide, 1.3 degrees Centigrade higher than the average over the previous 50 years that stood at 9.3 degrees Centigrade.
Worse still, an extremely low level of rainfall-the lowest in the past 50 years-has struck parts of China through this winter, affecting a large area along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River.
This warning sign of widespread winter drought shows that climate change poses a real threat to China due to the growing impact of extreme weather, irregular harvests, and diminished water reserves. According to the Ministry of Land and Resources, deglaciation in China is accelerating, with the glacier area shrinking 7.4 percent in the past five years. A continued reduction is predicted.
Given the deteriorating water shortages, worries are that droughts will frequently strike the historically moist south and northeast China, extending from the traditionally arid northern and northwestern areas.
The surface area of China's largest fresh water lake, the Boyang Lake in central China, had shrunk to less than 50 square km by the end of 2007, the smallest it has ever been in its recorded history. At the beginning of 2007, thousands of reservoirs and pools dried up in the southern coastal province of Hainan, affecting a population of tens of thousands. A drought has swept historically water-rich Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality in southwest China-the most severe in a hundred years-leaving farmland barren and deserted.
All the 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities on the Chinese mainland have suffered from scarce rainfall recently, reported the Commanding Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief. Since the 1990s, it said, a severe drought has hit every three years-and these are becoming more frequent and longer lasting. Droughts rarely seen since the founding of the People's Republic of China have raged across north China for 14 years in a row.
A severe and common shortage of water in most parts of China has devastated the nation's sustainable development potential, as well as threatened the safety of food and drinking water supplies.
In the 1950s, an average of 4.35 billion kg of crops were lost annually as a result of droughts, or 2.5 percent of the total yield. While in the 1990s, this figure reached 20.9 billion kg, accounting for 4.4 percent of the total. Since 2000, annual losses have risen to 37 billion kg, or 7 percent of total output. In 2007 alone, nearly 40 million hectares of farmland were affected by droughts. Of the total, almost 3.5 million hectares were devastated, causing a loss of 37.36 billion kg.
Not only agriculture, but industrial production and ecological stability have also been largely affected, with annual economic growth dropping by at least 1 percentage point because of these natural disasters.
Water, as a source of life on this planet, is also a major resource for social development. As the largest developing nation, frequent droughts will intensify the water problems for this thirsty country. Being fully aware of this, China is ready to take on these water challenges.