South China’s heatwave threatens harvest

The heatwave and drought across at least six southern Chinese provinces have shown no signs of letting up this week. By Monday, 22 August, red warnings for high temperatures over 40C had been issued 11 days in a row. The city of Jianyang in Sichuan reached over 43C last weekend, with high temperatures continuing through the week. 

It is the worst heat and drought period in China since records began in 1961, impacting the natural world, society and the economy in multiple ways.

Since 18 August, several forest fires have engulfed the dry hills surrounding Chongqing city.  Five thousand personnel have been involved in the response, including rescue teams, forest fire wardens, the fire brigade and police forces. Seven helicopters were brought in to help dampen the flames. As of Monday, over 1,500 people had been evacuated from the affected areas. To date, there have been no casualties.

The heatwave and drought are also impacting food production as China enters the autumn harvest. On Tuesday, an emergency notice on the harvest was jointly released by the ministries for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Hydrology, and Emergency Management, along with the National Meteorology Administration. It called on affected regions to prevent and mitigate disasters and to “resolutely carry out the political duty of ensuring national grain security.” Technical teams have been sent to impacted areas with the task of “strengthening targeted technical support.”

An article in Guangming Daily outlined recommendations from local meteorological departments on how best to protect important crops. Li Yingchun from Jiangxi province’s meteorological services recommended that citrus fruit farmers implement drip and spray irrigation and provide shade to fruit trees. Wu Qiang in Chongqing advised paddy field farmers at altitude who have yet to harvest their crops to sprinkle water on the fields before and after midday to reduce temperatures. Wu also advocated spraying phosphate and potassium fertilisers on the leaves to increase resilience to heat.

According to analysts, fruit and vegetables will be particularly badly hit by the heatwave and drought conditions. Immediate impacts on livestock from the heat and water shortages, as well medium-term impacts such as feed supplies, are also of concern.