Dispatches from the drought zone


Shi Hanbing’s blog

Shi Hanbing (时寒冰) is a senior commentator for Shanghai Securities News, a visiting professor at Nanjing University, and provides commentary on economic issues for CCTV and other media agencies. In 2009 he published a book on the global economic crisis: Author of Which Way Should China Turn: When the Sub-prime Crisis Changed the World (中国怎么办–当次贷危机改变世界).

Shi’s popular Sohu blog bears the motto: “Only with a fair and impartial system can the people escape plunder and terror, can justice and reverence for life become universal values. And all of this is only found in democracy.” The blog aggregates some of the commentary pieces he publishes for other media outlets but also features original content.

Recently, his posts have focused on the severe water shortage in southwest China. In early April, he conducted a field investigation in Yunnan and wrote up the results in a series of posts bearing the title “A field investigation into the truth of the drought” (旱灾真相实地调查). He laid out his aims in Part I, which was posted on April 12:

When disaster follows disaster, what we need most is to sit back and reflect, carefully figure out the true causes, and then find timely counter-strategies, as opposed to bungling opportunity after opportunity through meaningless bluster! What worries me most is not the frequency of the disasters but the insensitivity and indifference shown in response.

Out of a citizen’s sense of responsibility, after I donated money to build reservoirs, I began a field investigation. A significant number of the conclusions and recommendations in this essay are a product of that investigation; I arrived at the rest by talking to knowledgeable individuals. I hope that these investigations and recommendations will be of assistance to our handling of disasters.

When drought came to the southwest, many people thought that it was caused by insufficient rainfall; that is, a natural disaster. But if you look through the news you’ll find that similar “natural disasters” have been going on all the time. Limiting our search to Yunnan: In 2004, the southern part of the country “suffered the most serious drought in 53 years,” and Yunnan was on the list; In 2005, Yunnan “suffered the biggest drought in 50 years“; in 2006, “Yunnan suffered the most serious drought in 20 years“; in 2007, “With most areas of Yunnan receiving insufficient rain and experiencing elevated temperatures, drought conditions are worsening day by day“; “In 2008, Yunnan had three months of continuous drought”; in 2009, “Yunnan Province suffered the most serious drought conditions of the past 50 years“; in 2010, the “drought lasting from Autumn through Spring” was a once-in-a-hundred-years occurrence

And this does not even include the droughts in other locations. In 2007, 22 provinces of the country experienced droughts and a total of 224 million mu of land was affected. The central government issued 223 million yuan in drought assistance (nearly 1 yuan per mu).

However, after I conducted my field investigation and learned about the situation, I found that simply ascribing the problem to a natural disaster is quite unfair to mother nature. Compared to a country like Israel, China has more than enough rain. Or, even if nature is unfair to China, it is at least partial to the southwestern part of the country: The southwest, crisscrossed by rivers, is China’s most water-rich area. More than 70% of the country’s water resources are here.

Take Yunnan for example: according to publicly available statistics, Yunnan is a water-rich province and ranks third in the country for water resources with an absolute per capita average of more than 5,000 cubic meters of water. Within Yunnan there are 908 rivers whose runoff area exceeds 100 square kilometers, along with 211.388 square kilometers of lakes at an average depth of 5.12 meters, a maximum depth of 11.3 meters, and whose watershed covers 2,920 square kilometers.

My field investigation reached the following conclusion: the drought in the southwest is one part natural disaster, nine parts man-made calamity.

The piece continues in Part II and Part III. It is illustrated with photos Shi took during the course of his field investigation.

Other drought-related posts include Thoughts on drought relief in Yunnan, which features 44 photos from his field investigation, and The Drought Warning: A matter of life and death, which describes droughts in China and the US and their relationship to agriculture and the real estate sector.

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