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Official: Drought May Hit Hard Next Year

China is likely to experience a catastrophic drought, the worst threat to the national water supply and grain production, next year, said Wang Shucheng, minister of water resources, at a national conference yesterday.

The drought may threaten the country's farming and water supply as well as efforts to rehabilitate fragile ecosystems. He urged water supply authorities to prepare for a possible disaster to mitigate losses.

Over the past few weeks, rain and snowfall have eased a dry-spell that has lingered since autumn in much of the north. "The shortage of water has, so far, not fundamentally improved in the north," Wang said, adding that water authorities "must be ready to deal with a worsening situation next year."

This year, southern China, particularly the provinces of Guangdong and Hainan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, have been ravaged since early autumn by the worst drought since 1951.

It is still threatening the water supply of some 15 million people in the cities of Zhuhai, Zhongshan, Foshan, Shunde and Jiangmen.

Zhu Zhaohua, deputy director of Guangdong Water Resources Bureau, told China Daily that runoffs from the Xijiang River, a major tributary to the Pearl River, have dropped by 15 percent this year, with only 40 percent of water levels at local reservoirs replenished.

As a result, Guangdong has been forced to limit the use of water in some areas. Among the measures, the province has stopped using water to generate electricity to ensure that there is enough for people in urban areas.

According to Wang Qiusheng, deputy director of the Pearl River Water Resources Committee, they are considering diverting water from other parts of the country to help fight the severe drought and salt tide currently plaguing the Pearl River Delta. He said an emergency plan regarding water diversion had been completed and was awaiting approval from the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

According to the plan, if the salt tide occurs extensively, water will be discharged from reservoirs, such as Tianshengqiao Reservoir in southwest China's Guizhou Province, Yantan Reservoir in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Feilaixia Reservoir on the upper reaches of the Beijiang River, a tributary of the Pearl River, to dilute it.

The plowing season next spring, when about 20 percent of Guangdong's water supply is scheduled to be used for irrigation, may also be affected, he said.

This year, 23.4 million people have been hit by seasonal shortages of drinking water at least once and 16 million hectares of crops have been affected by the drought.

According to official statistics from the Ministry of Water Conservancy, floods in China this year also killed 1,343 people, damaged 7.73 million hectares of crops and caused direct economic losses of 66.6 billion yuan (approximately US$8.02 billion).

(Xinhua News Agency, China.org.cn, December 23, 2004)


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