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China’s record heat and heavy rain raise food security concerns

VCG/Visual China Group/Getty Images

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China is grappling with extreme weather as severe drought and record temperatures scorch the north while heavy rains inundate the south, raising concerns about food security in the world’s second-largest economy.

Areas of the country that produce a lot of rice and wheat have been badly affected, disrupting spring and summer planting seasons.

The Ministry of Agriculture said Thursday that drought and heat have had an adverse impact on the planting season in some northern and central provinces, and it warned that temperatures were expected to surpass 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) in the coming days.

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An emergency alert covering at least seven provinces, including the major agricultural regions of Henan and Shandong, was already in place because of dry, hot conditions.

“The recent persistently high temperatures have accelerated the loss of water in the soil and (caused) drought in some areas, which has negatively affected the summer sowing season,” the ministry said in a statement. “The drought is likely to continue and the task of protecting the summer planting season is difficult.”

In Henan, China’s top wheat producing region which accounts for a quarter of total output, rainfall in May was 70% lower than the yearly average, Yang Wentao, a provincial official, told national broadcaster CCTV on Wednesday.

Parts of the country are experiencing a major heat wave.

The China Meteorological Administration (CMA) said on Wednesday that 28 regional weather stations broke their respective records for the highest temperature ever recorded in mid June. The city of Fenyang in the northern province of Shanxi registered its highest temperature ever recorded at 40.2 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

China had its hottest spring on record this year. The national average temperature between March and May reached 12.3 degrees Celsius, the highest since records began in 1961, with 12 national meteorological stations registering temperatures reaching or surpassing records, according to the National Climate Center. Last year was the country’s hottest year on record.

Meanwhile, southern parts of the country, the top rice growing region, have been grappling with weeks of downpours.

In April, the Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement that rainfall in parts of the region had risen by 50% to 80%, and had even doubled in some areas. It made a series of recommendations on reducing damage to growing “early rice” saplings, which are planted in March and harvested in June.

The CMA said on Thursday that heavy rainfall had occurred in the Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangxi and Guizhou regions — some of them major manufacturing and industrial centers. Hunan and Jiangxi are two of China’s biggest rice producers.

China’s State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, a national coordination agency, issued an emergency response to both the flooding in the south and the drought in the north on Thursday, warning of a high risk of flash floods and geologic hazards.

These rains appear to be related to a seasonal monsoon pattern that can lead to intense showers over short periods.

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