Friday, August 1, 2014

China Focus: Central, north China hurt by drought

XI'AN, July 31 (Xinhua) -- As southern China endures typhoons and heavy rain, the northern and central parts of the country are suffering severe drought and scorching heat.

Residents in provinces and regions including Shaanxi, Henan, Anhui, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang are facing water shortages and reduced agricultural yields.

Northwest China's Shaanxi Province has suffered the worst drought in a century.

Owing to high temperatures and limited rain, a total of 4.12 million mu (about 270,000 hectares) of farmland has been hit by drought and 113,400 residents lack drinking water in central and southern areas of the province as of Wednesday.

Zhu Shanhuai, a 64-year-old resident of Xiaoliyuan Village of Shangnan County, has never seen such a drought. He is among 260,000 people affected by the extreme arid conditions in 13 towns and 167 villages of Shangnan.

"The water level of the well in my yard has dropped from 10 meters to five meters now," he said, adding that what he worries for most is his crops.

Zhu has one mu of peanuts, one of sweet potatoes, and three of corn, but they are expected to yield nothing when harvest season comes in autumn.

"Sweet potatoes have usually grown to the size of a fist by this time of year, but I dug some out and found they are as small as my fingernail," he complained.

In addition to rural areas, downtown Shangnan has also been dealt with a heavy blow.

Nearly 65,000 residents are relying on water carried by 30 trucks from Danjiang River around the clock since the reservoir, the only source of drinking water in the county, is nearly dry, said Liu Kejun, an official with the county's water authorities.

"The situation has been especially bad since the start of June, with only 60,000 tonnes of water left in the reservoir. It can get 1,000 tonnes of water from rivers each day, but 9,000 tonnes is needed to support the county," he explained.

As one of China's most populous provinces and its second-largest producer of food crops, Henan has been horrified to see nearly 23.1 million mu of farmland affected, and 245,000 people and 80,000 heads of cattle without water.

In June and July, Henan's average precipitation has been only 90.2 millimeters, the least in that period since 1951, said Yang Dayong, an official with the provincial flood control and drought relief headquarters.

Ren Xiaopei, head of the drought relief team in Baofeng County, said 2,200 wells out of around 4,000 in the county do not have enough water due to lingering drought over the past three years. Tobacco leaves are withered and corn has failed to sprout.

"Underground water levels have dropped by five or six meters compared to that of the same period in 2013. Now, the average depth of wells is between 60 meters to 130 meters," Ren said.

The problems are exacerbated by locals seemingly losing enthusiasm for drought relief efforts, as many migrate to big cities.

"The relief work needs money. Many villagers work in factories nowadays, and they do not have the passion for drought relief unless they live near the water sources or their crops are valuable," said a resident surnamed Hou in Changzhang Village.

In Pingdingshan City, home to millions of people, water supply for car-wash businesses and public baths has been cut off. Major water-consuming enterprises have been ordered to restrict consumption.

Wang Baogui, deputy head of the city's water conservancy bureau, said Baiguishan Reservoir, the major source of drinking water in the city, was at dead storage level.

Large and medium reservoirs in Henan are currently holding 2.8 billion cubic meters of water, down 1.35 billion cubic meters from previous years. Nearly 35 percent of small reservoirs are dried up. More than 50 percent of rivers are cut off.

The worst drought in three years has also affected about 940,000 people in seven prefectures and cities in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, with 285,000 people lack drinking water as of Wednesday, according to the regional civil affairs department.

The drought has caused direct economic losses of 470 million yuan (about 76 million U.S. dollars), and hit some 5.09 million mu of farmland and 271.5 million mu of pastures. About 1.57 million heads of cattle also lack drinking water.

According to the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, the lingering drought has damaged a total of 72.34 million mu of farmland in central and north China as of Wednesday.

Now is the key moment for China's yields of autumn grain crops, mainly corn and rice. About 8.41 million mu of farmland will produce reduced harvests and 560,000 mu will have no harvests in drought-hit regions, greatly affecting agricultural yields, the headquarters said.

Drought relief funds and task forces have already been allocated to the worst-hit provinces and regions to ensure food production security.

However, challenges remain as the meteorological authorities forecast that the drought may continue in August in most regions of north and central China.

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