Walking through Kunming on a warm sunny day, a casual observer would find little trace of the drought that parched much of the province for half a decade. Running water and frequent rains stand in stark contrast to the water shortages once a constant nuisance for residents of the Spring City. Other parts of Yunnan, however, are not so lucky, experiencing wildly juxtaposed weather, including flash floods and scorching droughts.
With the end of the winter dry season in May, northwest Yunnan has experienced increasingly dire water shortages. Persistently high temperatures and low precipitation levels are cause for concern to government officials in areas including Chuxiong, Dali, Lijiang and parts of the Nu river valley. Empty irrigation ponds, cracked earth and withered crops have become daily phenomena in these regions.
The city of Chuxiong, for example, reports cumulative rainfall of less than 60 percent the normal values over the past three months. In some nearby hamlets, recorded rainfall between May and July is lower than during any summer since 1967. Making matters worse, many reservoirs in the Chuxiong area are drying up. The mayor of Donghua (东华), a village five kilometers southeast of Chuxiong, told reporters his town's largest reservoir currently holds less than two percent of its typical capacity.
Water rationing in and around the city has left villagers queuing for hours in the morning for access to wells. Given the agricultural dependence of these areas on tobacco and rice, many farmers need to drive long distances to drag water back to their farms. Numerous rice paddies have already closed down, as the city reports of 1,000 hectares of completely desiccated farmland.
City dwellers have likewise witnessed the negative ramifications of growing water shortages. With water prices surging and inhabitants growing increasingly restless, several school districts have introduced programs to distribute emergency water supplies to students and teachers. Kan Yunfeng, a driver for the company that delivers bottled water, explains that "every Monday, Wednesday and Friday vehicles filled with ten tons of bottled water arrive at each school to hand out water." Dali, Lijiang and towns lining the Nu river valley report similar situations.
Just 300 kilometers south of Chuxiong, however, the area surrounding Jinghong is experiencing disastrous rains. With roads and houses swamped, several villages became little more than swamps. A government report cites economic losses toping 230 million yuan (US$37 million), following only two days of rain. Although small cities experienced their share of damage, 161 "agricultural villages", mainly growing citrus fruits and rice, were destroyed.
Rain during summer seasons is by no means unexpected in southern Yunnan. Neither, at least recently, are regional droughts that sometimes sweep through the province. The occurrence of the two simultaneously and so close in geographic distance — especially with Kunming enjoying completely predictable seasonal weather — is, however, a rare occurrence.
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