By Mark Schiefelbein
The Associated Press
CHONGQING, CHINA » Ships crept down the middle of the Yangtze on Friday after 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 the Sichuan province and the adjacent metropolis of Chongqing 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 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.
Normally bustling streets were empty after temperatures hit 113 degrees Fahrenheit in Chongqing on Thursday. State media said that was the hottest in China outside the desert region of Xinjiang in the northwest since official records began in 1961.
“We cannot live through this summer without air conditioning,” said Chen Haofeng, 22, who was taking pictures of the exposed riverbed. “Nothing can cool us down.”
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.
Thousands of factories that make processor chips, solar panels and auto components in Sichuan and Chongqing shut down this week for at least six days.
Some announced there was no disruption in supplies to customers, but the Shanghai city government said Thursday that Tesla and a major Chinese automaker were forced to suspend production.
The city government of Chengdu, the Sichuan capital, told households to conserve power by setting air conditioning no lower than 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Another city, Dazhou, announced rolling three-hour daily power outages for neighborhoods.
The Yangtze basin, covering parts of 19 provinces, produces 45% of China’s economic output, according to the World Bank.