China’s driest summer in six decades left one of the mightiest rivers barely half its normal width and set off a scramble to contain the damage to a weak economy in a politically sensitive year.
Factories in Sichuan province and the adjacent metropolis of Chongqing in the southwest were ordered to shut down after reservoirs that supply hydropower fell to half their normal levels and demand for air conditioning surged in scorching temperatures.
River ferries in Chongqing that usually are packed with sightseers were empty and tied to piers beside mudflats that stretched as much as 50 meters (50 yards) from the normal shoreline to the depleted river’s edge. Smaller ships sailed down the middle of the Yangtze, one of China’s biggest trade channels, but no large cargo ships could be seen.
The disruption adds to challenges for the ruling Communist Party, which is trying to shore up sagging economic growth before a meeting in October or November when President Xi Jinping is expected to try to award himself a third five-year term as leader.
The world’s second-largest economy grew by just 2.5% over a year earlier in the first half of 2022, less than half the official target of 5.5%.
The drought’s impact in Sichuan is unusually severe because the province gets 80% of its power from hydroelectric dams.