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China battles its worst heat wave on record

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now to China, where people have been dealing with record-breaking temperatures since early July. The heat is so severe, some cities in southwestern China cut power to all factories this week. NPR Beijing correspondent Emily Feng is on the line.

Emily, thanks so much for being with us.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hi, Scott. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Help us understand how severe this heat is.

FENG: It's pretty bad. China's been in this continuous heat wave officially for the last 68 days, which is the longest heat wave on record since China's National Climate Center started keeping records back in 1961. More than 240 cities this week said they forecasted temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. That's pretty hot. The country's issued its first national drought alert in nine years. And it's pushed places like central Hubei province, for example, to pretty extreme methods. They're so desperate for rainfall that they said this week they're starting to seed clouds, which is this experimental method where you shoot metal up into the clouds. So you think you might have rain. It's not proven, but this is how much they need water because the lack of water is even affecting the power supply in other places.

A province called Sichuan in the southwest is about 80% reliant on hydroelectric power, except they don't have rain. And this is the time when the demand for energy is much higher because people are relying on air conditioning to keep cool. So this week, Sichuan, that province, which has more than 80 million people, decided it was cutting off electricity to most factories for about seven days so they can ensure people would have power at home and the power grids wouldn't overload.

SIMON: And that can't be good news for the world supply chain, can it?

FENG: It is more bad news because a number of major multinationals have factories in Sichuan. There is an electronics component maker named Foxconn. There are American companies, like Intel and Texas Instruments, which have factories there that are highly reliant on stable power. And these factories together make important components for cars and electronics. So even though the power is just out for a week, it's going to take them far longer to restart production once again when the power turns back on. And that's only going to make this ongoing global semiconductor shortage worse.

On top of that, China's already suffering from economic pressures because it has these on-and-off-again COVID restrictions. And this heat wave does not help. And you see this impact already in the most recent economic statistics for the country. They came out last week. They're pretty dire. They show that consumer spending missed all forecasts. The official youth unemployment is nearly 20%. Unofficially, it's probably much higher, and home sales have fallen.

SIMON: Emily, what's the Chinese government say they are going to do in response?

FENG: They say they're going to try to balance the pressures of COVID restrictions, this heat wave and aiming for economic growth. But they've already lowered their targets for the year. China's central bank is lowering interest rates in the hopes that the lower cost of lending to small businesses might mute the impact of this heat wave and COVID. But analysts say that's not going to have that much of a help. Long term, things actually look scarier. What we're seeing this summer in China is likely going to become more and more common. There was a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018 that forecasted a big part of northern China could become unlivable by the end of this century because of extreme heat. And that conversely means that flash flooding is becoming more and more common because the ground is not able to absorb water when it does rain. And this week alone in China, there were two flash floods that killed 22 people.

SIMON: NPR's Emily Feng.

Thanks so much.

FENG: Thanks, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.