Crystal clear blue skies and summertime temperatures have lingered over most of Yunnan for the past two months. However enjoyable the weather has been, a persistent and enduring lack of rain led provincial authorities to issue a dire warning this week – the province is currently facing its worst period of drought since a "once in a century" dry spell crippled the region several years ago.
Central Yunnan is the locus of the 2019 version of drought, with the central prefectures of Kunming, Chuxiong and Yuxi experiencing the worst dry conditions. All of them, with the addition of Lijiang and parts of Pu'er, Lincang and Dali now face what the Chinese government classifies as its highest emergency — Level 5 — drought conditions.
While situations in other parts of the province are less severe, none of Yunnan's 16 prefectures is immune. The worst hit areas span more than 1,400 square kilometers, with cropland under severe duress or already declared lost. Official assessments go on to say that 300,000 people and 93,000 head of livestock currently "lack adequate access to drinking water".
Despite the dire reports, accompanying media accounts imply the situation could be far worse. Following five years of alternating levels of drought spanning 2009 and 2014, the Yunnan government spent hundreds of billions of yuan building new reservoirs for large municipal areas while also creating thousands of water storage cisterns in rural villages. The largest of these storage facilities are reportedly full, despite this year's lack of rain.
The bulk of the money spent in the aftermath of the last drought, however, was spent on diverting water from the Yangtze River — which flows through northern Yunnan — towards the center of the province. The Dian Zhong Water Diversion Project (滇中引水工程) serves multiple purposes, including drought alleviation in times of emergency, the replenishment of reservoirs along its path and the mighty task of flushing pollution and algae out of Dianchi Lake.
As they did six years ago, provincial authorities called upon several thousand People's Liberation Army soldiers to prepare for cloud seeding operations, if such actions are deemed necessary. And as emergency water supplies are trucked to the most crippled places in Yunnan, engineers are on the lookout for rivers, creek beds and mountainsides where flash flooding is most likely to occur when the rains do come.