Lingering drought threatens eco-environment along Yangtze River

08:42, June 03, 2011      

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The lingering drought continues to wreak havoc along the Yangtze, raising concerns about the ecological security in the areas along China's longest river.

"I've never seen it this bad. The waterweeds and fish are all dried dead," says Zhang Yueming, a 53-year-old farmer from Sushui County in Jiangsu Province.

Behind him is a large expanse of muddy water dotted with dying fish and clams. The enclosed crab-breeding farms are parched and cracked as a result of the relentless dry spell that is gripping central and eastern China. At the banks of the Shijiu Lake, fishing gear lies unattended.

The 207-square-kilometer lake is located at the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. The depth of the lake is usually around 10 meters, but this year, the lake is barely one meter deep.

This scene is not untypical in the regions affected by the drought.

"The meteorological drought has developed into hydrological drought and ecological drought, and farming and fishing is severely affected," says Jiang Jiahu, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

Rainfall along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze has been at its lowest since 1951, down 40 percent to 60 percent from the average level, according to statistics from the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

Jiang said if the drought continues, the natural environment along the Yangtze River will be badly hurt.

Traditionally praised as the "land of fish and rice," the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River are well suited for farming and fishing.

However, hasty development in the regions has left the ecological balance in a fragile state.

In recent years, with the quickened pace of industrialization and urbanization, rice paddies have given way to buildings, and rivers are filled to provide space to factories. The land is becoming too frail to stand to the test of the drought.

Honghu Lake, an important ecological site that is listed by the World Wildlife Fund, has also been hit by the drought. The lake area is home to 494 kinds of plants and 774 kinds of animals.

"The drought has done considerable damage to the ecological environment of the Honghu Lake," says Zeng Xiaodong, head of the management office of the Honghu marshland.

"Right now it is the spawning season for fishes and they need shallow waters, but the lake is running dry and their spawning is greatly affected," he says.

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