Winters seem to be growing gradually warmer in the United States but on the other side of the world China is struggling amidst the coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Prolonged and extreme colds are now threatening to disrupt food supplies which will add to inflation and could cause a national emergency. The prolonged cold spell is already increasing pressures on the Consumer Price Index and may slow China’s economy in the months to come.
The southern regions of China are privng to be particularly vulnerable to the chilling temperatures as the general population lacks the experience to prolonged periods of freezing temperatures. Already over 400,000 people in the Southern province of Guizhou are facing a state of emergency as ice build ups has disrupted power lines and transportation. The province is expected to suffer at least 10 million dollars worth of damage to iced over fields alone.
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The summer growing season was cut unexpectedly short this year, hurting agriculture supplies across the country as snows and frost arrived far earlier then usual, even in the Southern regions of China. In combination with surging demand due to increased economic development this could cause rice and grain prices to sky-rocket though China has announced plans to purchase excess rice from Thailand. Meanwhile prices for certain foods are rising at alarming rates. Cabbage prices have skyrocketed by ten percent in recent days. Further, an estimated 180,000 cattle have died due to the cold across China which will raise meat prices. Other livestock may also be threatened in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile ships have been trapped in rivers and along parts of coast across China. Most of China’s exports exit through the south of China where passage ways are still open, however, energy supplies being brought in through Russia and elsewhere could be disrupted. Public transportation systems and roadways have also ground to a halt. China frequently suffers from traffic jams and ice, heavy snows will only exacerbate the problem.
China isn’t the only country taking the brunt of this unusually cold winter. Heavy snow falls have buried part of Jordan in up to a foot of snow and caused fatal car accidents in the West Bank. Meanwhile in Bangladesh at least 80 people have been killed by record colds. Parts of Northern India are suffering similar conditions and peoples across Asia long used to warm weather are at a high risk of being unable to cope with the temperature drops.
Energy prices may also rise in the coming months as people consume more energy to heat their homes. With hundreds of millions of people across Asia suddenly in need of extra height the impact on energy prices could be quite considerable and could even slow economic growth. Certain companies may benefit from the cold. Meat and produce producers in the United States and Australia may see their exports rise as Asian farmers lose their crop and livestock to the cold.
The extreme weather may also slow Asia’s economies as supply chains and energy supplies are disrupted. Further, disruptions in the food chain will almost certainly increase inflation in the months to come even as China and other Asia nations are already trying desperately to cool down inflation or else risk the fallouts through the economy. The Chinese Consumer Price Index rose 2.5% through December, up from .8% in November. These increasing rates have been felt on China’s stock markets with the Shanghai Composite falling by 1.3%.
While the full effects of the record breaking cold will likely be felt from months to come though so far the Chinese government has responded well. If the cold spells continue, however, the Chinese government may find itself overwhelmed and could face a genuine national emergency which could strain economic and political conditions in an already increasingly unstable country.