Hope dries up with evaporating lake

09:21, June 03, 2011      

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Fishermen try to turn around a boat on a strip of shallow water left in drought-hit Honghu Lake in Hubei province on Wednesday. Du Huaju / Xinhua&

Holding her year-old son, Liu Yuanrong looks out at the rapidly shrinking lake where her boat sits stranded in shallow water.

"We really don't want to move out, but the lake has gone dry," Liu said.

She had insisted on staying at Honghu Lake and living aboard their boat, but on Wednesday she found there was no drinking water.

"My baby is too young, I can't let him suffer," said the 28-year-old, who has been relocated to a welfare house.

As one of about 10,000 fishermen living on Honghu Lake, the most heartbreaking thing was large flocks of dead crabs.

Liu said her family could earn more than 100,000 yuan ($15,400) in a year of good weather, but this year they might fall into debt.

The lingering drought has made the 35,000-hectare Honghu Lake gradually disappear with less than 4,500 hectares covered by water, according to the Honghu Wetland Nature Reserve's latest calculation on Thursday.

Zeng Xiaodong, the director of the nature reserve's office, told China Daily that there were only 10 spots in the whole lake that had water, and the other places were all mud.

According to official data, the depth of the lake this season is usually about 6 meters, while this year the deepest place was only 30 centimeters.

"This disaster has nearly destroyed the ecosystem of Honghu," Zeng said, while worrying that the lake will need a long period to recover. Besides Honghu Lake, other lakes in Hubei province, famous for its thousands of lakes, also had to face the sharpest decline of water area in history.

An assessment released by the Wuhan Climate Center of Hubei meteorological bureau on Thursday showed that Dongting Lake covered an area of 468 square kilometers in May, 55 percent less than normal. The water areas of Danjiangkou Reservoir and Liangzi Lake were both 20 percent less than at the same time in past years.

Zeng said the dryness of Honghu Lake was related to the mistimed water scheduling.

Before the drought, water was released. Then during the drought, water in the lake was pumped for crop irrigation, Zeng said.

"There should be an ecological water-level-scheduling mechanism," Zeng said.

According to local fisherman Xiao Yewen, 56, the lake has never been so dry.

"It's the worst in my memory," Xiao said.

With 800,000 yuan, Xiao had invested in a fishing ground of 67 hectares near Honghu Lake.

The drought, however, has dried up 90 percent of the area.

Xiao said fishing required a large investment, so locals relied on loans.

"I borrowed 600,000 yuan of my 800,000-yuan investment, but I face bankruptcy if the lake stays dry," Xiao said.

In Xiao's fishing ground, the dead fish have become rotten and smelly.

Though the weather forecast says there will be rain in the coming two days, Xiao is still pessimistic.

"We are a vulnerable group and no one cares for us. We don't know what to do now with the bank," said 60-year-old Chen Houqiang.

Zhou Lihua contributed to this story.

Source:China Daily
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