More than 90 million people are being affected by the worsening drought in southern and eastern China, sources with the Ministry of Civil Affairs said Wednesday.
The drought, which started in June and intensified in July, is the worst in the last three decades and is still affecting areas of southern China.
Twelve provinces and regions -- Zhejiang, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangxi, Hubei, Anhui, Guangdong, Guangxi, Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan and Shaanxi -- have been worst hit by the disaster in the past two months.
More than 7.7 million hectares of farmland in southern and eastern China have dried up and more than 90 million people and 6.8 million head of livestock have been affected by water shortages, according to the latest statistics released by the ministry Wednesday.
This year's rainy season in southern and eastern China was several days shorter than the previous years with the precipitation in those areas being noticeably lower.
Continuous sizzling weather with temperatures of over 40 C has affected many areas of East China's Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Fujian provinces and Central China's Hubei and Hunan provinces for more than two weeks, the ministry said Wednesday.
Many small reservoirs and rivers are drying up in Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan and Guangdong, said the Central Meteorological Station.
These provinces are short of water and electricity, and the heat is damaging rice paddies and orchards.
However, the latest weather forecast has brought good news for the drought-hit areas.
Rain will fall all over China for the next three days, relieving the south from the prolonged sweltering heat, the Central Meteorological Station forecast yesterday.
Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu yesterday called on governments in all localities to work harder in drought relief and ensure drinking water for urban and rural residents and livestock in drought-hit areas.
Hui, who is also head of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, urged officials to take all means to stop sunstroke, prevent the outbreak of epidemic diseases and guard against fires in the drought-affected areas.
Hui stressed the importance of modern technology in disaster prevention and called for the building of a comprehensive disaster relief system at the first plenary meeting of the China International Disaster Relief Committee yesterday in Beijing.
The country's rice production is expected to decrease due to the long and lingering drought in the south, according to Ministry of Agriculture officials.
The State Cereal and Oil Information Center predicted that with the decrease of rice planting areas and due to bad weather, rice output will decrease to 168 million tons this year, down 3.7 per cent compared to last year.
However, the center said the influence on the domestic rice market should be slight as the country has sufficient rice reserves.
A heat wave has plagued huge areas of southern China since late June. The drought will affect the planting and growth of late rice crops. But the drought will have little impact on early rice crops, which are now ready to be harvested.
(Xinhua News Agency August 14, 2003)