AP PHOTOS: Drought changes landscape in southwest China

August 24, 2022 GMT

CHONGQING, China (AP) — River bottoms partially exposed by drought create a rare sight that becomes an urban beach at dusk to escape the withering heat. Farmlands baked by the sun leave rice stalks yellowed, the famed hot pepper plants all but bereft of fruit, the reservoirs reduced to a puddle of water and cracked earth.

The very landscape of Chongqing, a megacity that also takes in surrounding farmland and steep and picturesque mountains, has been transformed by an unusually long and intense heat wave and an accompanying drought.

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Chinese meteorologists are calling it the nation’s strongest heat wave since record keeping began in 1961, based on its intensity, geographic area and duration. Now into its third month, it has surpassed the previous record of 61 days in 2013. Temperatures are topping 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in cities and villages across southern China. Chongqing in the southwest has been hit particularly hard

At Longquan village in the rolling hills south of urban Chongqing, a farmer walks across cracked mud at the bottom of a community reservoir that was once full of water. The reservoir’s retaining wall sprang a leak a few months ago, and with the heat and drought, only a puddle a few meters (yards) across remains.

To the north, Li Siming walks through his fields yellowing rice plants in Mu’er town as the sound of jets landing at a nearby airport echoed off the hillsides. With the supply limited, the communal water that would normally go to his rice crops was diverted to fruit orchards instead.

“We pray to the god, but the god wouldn’t rain. We ask the local government, but the government wouldn’t give us water,” Li said.

He is using expensive tap water to irrigate his fields. He estimates his harvest from 3 hectares (7 acres) of land will be 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of rice — less than a third of his usual one. Farmers have moved forward the harvest by half a month so the crops won’t dry up, but before the grains are fully developed.

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A strong high-pressure ridge parked over western Russia is behind the heat waves in both China and Europe this summer. The extreme heat is likely connected to human-caused climate change — though scientists have yet to do the calculations and computer simulations to say that for certain.

The Jialing River, a tributary of the Yangtze, has shrunk in places to less than half the width of its channel through the heart of Chongqing. Residents and visitors make their way across boulders on the exposed riverbed to pose for selfies and look at the remaining flow of water. At dusk, a squad of uniformed officers uses megaphones to order the throngs back to the higher ground of an adjacent promenade.

Along the Yangtze, which also runs through downtown Chongqing, families and children play in the shallow water near the base of an exposed bridge support column. Muddy streaks along the column more than 8 meters (25 feet) above their heads mark previous river levels. As darkness falls, a woman, illuminated by her smartphone, sits on a rocky outcropping that would normally be submerged in the middle of the river.

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Associated Press video producer Olivia Zhang contributed to this report.

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