Where Has All the Water Gone?

On Sunday I was flying back to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The flight path across China was due north to Beijing, after we entered Chinese airspace over Hong Kong.  I’ve flown that routing numerous times, and am always struck by one thing:  the southern part of China, up to just north of the Yangtze River is almost under a cover of clouds.  But then, as if someone has drawn a line, the clouds dissipate somewhere between the Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers, giving a view of the land below.  What struck me this time as we flew beyond the clouds and out over the North China Plain was how brown it was, even a few months into the growing season.  And the rivers are empty.  Except for the Yellow River itself (which is filled with mud mostly), every single river bed we flew over was dried up.  I kept asking myself, where has the water gone, and how to the millions who live down there survive without it?  The Xinhua News Agency today wrote about the same thing, noting that 4.8 million people are now directly affected by a severe drought that has hit 4 provinces in northern and northeastern China. In one province alone, more than 200 reservoirs have dried up.  That’s really quite hard to comprehend!