Monday, February 16, 2009

The Rude Awakening

The severe drought in north China is continuing the grab headlines.

One of the eight wheat-producing provinces, Henan, only got 6mm of rain this weekend after 110 days of no rain. Wheat crops need at least 30mm to survive.

And officials there think the drought will continue for some time.

So much for trying to fire rockets into the air to seed clouds in order to entice them to rain.

According to government figures as of February 9, 18.4 million hectares of farmland and 9.1 million hectares of cropland have been hit by the drought, affecting 3.46 million people and 1.66 million heads of livestock.

Scientists believe climate change is to blame for the dry weather conditions, with warmer temperatures affecting food security.

Lin Erda, a member of China's national climate change expert panel and senior researcher with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, says in recent years, around 22 million hectares of land have been hit by drought annually, leading to the loss of 10 million tons of grain per year.

He cites the most serious years were in 2000 and 2001 when China's crop yields lost 50 million tons of grain each year.

The warmer temperatures have also led to water shortages, with Lin predicting the annual water shortage in China's western region to be 2o billion cubic metres between 2010 and 2030.

But the problem is also due to the water systems that carry the precious fluid to the fields.

Qiu Weiduo, a conservation expert at a research institute under the Ministry of Water Resources, says human factors are to blame, apart from the weather.

Chinese officials claim the country's water efficiency is at 45 percent. But Qiu believes it's much less than that.

Irrigation efficiency is defined as the ratio of water consumed by crops in an irrigated area compared to the amount diverted to the source. Qiu says in China, it's at 30 percent, due to poor infrastructure, such as reservoirs, canals and leaking pipes that date back to the 1960s. In developed countries, Qiu says irrigation efficiency is at least 70 percent.

Flood irrigation is still the top method used in China even though it's criticized for its lack of water effiency. Perhaps old habits die hard.

But the irrigation efficiency percentage is shockingly low and is leading to an increasing gap between the have's and have not's.

Even though the government has sent out agricultural technocrats out to the fields to help the farmers with scientific solutions, no technology is going to solve this problem overnight.

What really needs to be done is getting the government to finally pay attention to what the farmers need and update the water systems.

If skyscrapers can be built in less than two years, surely new and well-constructed pipes, canals and less polluted rivers would be a significant help.

Not only for food security, but for the environment too.

The wastage of any precious natural resources, especially water, should be a crime.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

china should put more emphasis on humanistic efforts.