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China faces worst drought in 50 years

May 27, 2011

India’s ambassador to Myanmar  V S Seshadri has suggested that India exit the 1200 MW Tamanthi and 642 MW Shwezaye hydel projects on the Chindwin River, the  largest tributary of the Irrawaddy due to state-run hydel utility (NHPC) National Hydroelectric Power Corporation’s bureaucratic attitude and China’s growing  influence in the region. The Indian ministry of Foreign Affairs, had entered into an agreement in 2004 with the Myanmar government to supply power to Myanmar and bordering states in India’s north-east to kickstart economic development in the region.

The suggestion to exit the hydel power project in Myanmar also comes at a time when the Chinese government is battling its worst drought in half a century, following repercussions of damming the Yangtze river in the largest hydro power project worldwide, fear is blazing across the middle kingdom of China’s largest freshwater lake – Poyang Lake turning into Prairie land.

Playing God hasn’t always worked for Beijing, and this time round,  as China nears the peak of summer, the threat has got worse. Besides the rising flames of inflation,  for the first time in modern Chinese history, electricity blackouts and clean water shortages are expected to affect major cities on the countrys most prosperous East coast.

Even though Shanghai’s government promised on Thursday that the city’s 23 million residents would not face shortages at home, the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric complex, has been releasing larger-than-usual flows – about 5 billion cubic metres of water downstream in an effort to raise water levels brought so low by the lack of rain that inland shipping is being obstructed.

10 million people in 87 cities and counties including farmers across 3.2 million acres (1.3 million hectares) of farmland in seven central provinces including  Hubei and Hunan provinces are finding themselves unable to plant summer crops or keep fish ponds stocked. As a result, many are abandoning their land and moving to the cities to look for work. While Beijing has pledged billions in irrigation as a long term measure, the people of China are suffering as summer takes its hold.

While many are blaming the damning of the Yangtze river, as a cause of this acute drought, Beijing says its global warming. Chinese environmentalists have said that the Three Gorges Dam has altered the climate, but maintain that it isn’t responsible for such drastic changes.

A larger and more serious concern for both economists and environmentalist is China’s gung-ho attitude to going green. The green energy debate – that to move away from fossil fuels enables Beijing to rely on water and solar energy. While a big move has been made in the solar energy front, this drought could be a warning to Beijing on massive hydro power projects. While China is yet busy building dams on rivers in neighboring nations, including Myanmar, a few years ago speculation was rife that China was planning on damming the Brahmaputra and Mekong Rivers, both of which originate in China and would have effectively killed all life and livelihood downstream.

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