By Jeremiah Jenne [see Update below]
BEIJING, China -- It didn't rain today. Now, usually that wouldn't be much of a lead, but here in North China this counts as news. Since last September, we've had almost no precipitation other than a few days of snow last month, and that came courtesy of China's weather modification teams.
Other areas haven't even been that lucky. Winter wheat crops are failing throughout the region and farmers are now worried that if conditions don't improve soon, the drought will seriously jeopardize the all-important spring planting season.
There are serious environmental ramifications from the lack of water beyond farming. Beijing is one of the few major world cities not located on a significant river or body of water. It sits instead on a large brackish aquifer and relies on a series of man-made reservoirs and canals for its water supply. Despite the best efforts of China's engineers, Beijing's demand for water is rapidly depleting already limited supplies and the continuing drought only accelerates this dangerous trend.
There's also an important social dynamic. With world food prices at their highest level in almost three years, the possibility of a massive failure of the winter wheat crop has the government on alert. Earlier this week I wrote a post in which I downplayed the chances of a North African-style "Jasmine Revolution" breaking out in China, and I still doubt that messages posted on overseas websites will have the reach or the audience sufficient to spark mass demonstrations, but this continuing drought coupled with rising food prices presents a very real threat.