The devastating drought that has plagued the drainage area of the Yellow River in North China shows no signs of abating.
More than a million hectares of farm land in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region is short of irrigation water, which China's second longest river used to supply.
About 300,000 farmers are in urgent need of water to restore their arid land, a water resources official from the region said.
In a bid to salvage something from the increasingly desperate situation, local farmers have been urged to adopt various measures to tackle the severe drought. Among those are the planting of crops which need less irrigation, improving water-saving methods and the tapping of more underground water supplies .
But even if these measures are taken and prove successful, the authorities predict that a water shortage of about 600-800 million cubic meters will still remain.
And there is little let-up on the immediate horizon according to experts who predict average temperatures next month to be higher than they have been over the past 30 years and rainfall will be scarce across the country.
"Drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon might last for the whole spring this year, which will bring another thirsty season for North China," said Wang Zhanggui, a leading researcher with the National Environmental Forecasting Center.
Another badly hit area is coastal Shandong Province, which relies on the Yellow River for much of its water. To help those in this important fertile area, the local government has handed out 180 million yuan (US$21.8 million) in relief funds and supplied more than 9,090 kilograms of grain from government storehouses to help the drought-stricken province's 9 million farmers get through the winter.
Officials with Shandong Civil Affairs Department said various levels of government in the province are raising money to help the stricken farmers. And the large scale relief fund to farmers has been extended in advance of the Spring Festival, the Chinese lunar New Year, which falls on February 1.
Grain lending, after trials in some areas, has begun in earnest in some cities in the west of the province. Those who are given loans can repay the grain in the summer or autumn when their crops ripen.
Statistics from the local water resources bureau show that the amount of rain that has fallen since last August has been the least in 50 years.
More than 48 million people and 5 million hectares of arable land have been affected in some way. More than 3 million hectares have been seriously blighted, with one-third yielding nothing last year.
The central and western parts of the province, including Heze, Jining, Liaocheng, Jinan, Zibo, Binzhou and Dongying, are the most parched.
Recently, the Ministry of Land and Resources has urged the relevant government departments to "get ready'' for the planned anti-drought and irrigation-system construction project.
Under this scheme local governments are required to conduct hydrological exploration and supervision and draw up emergency regional water-supply plans.
Armed with the data, local departments can help drought-stricken regions drill new wells. Meanwhile, a campaign to protect water resources will be launched to avoid over exploitation and pollution.
(China Daily January 30, 2002)