Rainfall in parts of Sichuan Province over the weekend has brought hopes of an end to the region's worst-ever drought.
Showers in cities and prefectures in the southwestern province yesterday and on Saturday at last offered some respite from the heat wave that has plagued the province for the last couple of months.
Ya'an, Leshan, Meishan, Zigong, Yibin and Panzhihua cities and parts of the Aba Tibetan, Qiang Autonomous and Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous prefectures all reported rain over the weekend.
According to the Sichuan Provincial Weather Bureau, a cold air front made its way into Sichuan on Saturday evening.
Yesterday, temperatures in most western parts of the Sichuan Basin dropped below 40 degrees Celsius, while it dropped to below 35 degrees in eastern parts.
In Chengdu, the provincial capital, the temperature dropped to a "cool" 30 degrees.
According to Wang Sheng, an official with the Sichuan Provincial Weather Bureau, the high-pressure air mass hovering over the province will weaken and withdraw eastward.
This will probably result in more rain around Thursday, ending the month-long heat wave, he said.
According to the Sichuan Provincial Disaster Relief Office, the heat wave has resulted in severe droughts in 112 of Sichuan's 181 counties.
Nearly 4.9 million people and 6 million livestock are in dire need of drinking water due to the drought, which has caused economic losses valued at an estimated 8.9 billion yuan (US$1.1 billion), close to 8 billion yuan (US$1 billion) of which have been borne by farmers, the office said.
Hot weather and a severe drought have left millions of people short of drinking water and millions of hectares of cropland damaged across the country, Xinhua reported.
As of last Thursday, 18.03 million people in 15 provinces and regions were experiencing drinking water shortages, according to the Ministry of Water Resources.
The drought, the worst in 50 years, has damaged more than 130 million hectares of cropland, and more than 17 million livestock have had to endure reduced water supplies.
Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality and Sichuan Province have been hit the hardest.
"I have never seen any drought as severe as this one," said Nie Zhongchang, a 61-year-old farmer in Baixiang Village in Suining City, one of the worst-affected cities in Sichuan.
Cracks as wide as a man's leg riddle paddy fields, sweet potatoes have withered, rice plants have turned into weeds, and corn crops have dried up under the scorching sun, good to be used only as firewood, he said.
The drought is the most severe since 1951, Ren Yongchang, mayor of Suining, told China Daily.
It has affected 2.1 million hectares of farmland in Sichuan, 308,000 of which will produce no crops whatsoever this year, according to the Sichuan Provincial Disaster Relief Office.
Water levels in Sichuan's major rivers are at record lows. As a result, the province, known for having the country's largest exploitable hydropower resources, now faces a severe power shortage.
Showers in Chongqing
In related news, residents in most parts of Chongqing were happy to see some showers yesterday cooling down temperatures in this "hot pot" city for the first time in as many as 40 days.
Rainfall in Shaping District and Shizhu County reached 20 millimeters and 30 millimeters respectively.
Whilst the rain has helped to cool down temperatures, it can't relieve the droughts, according to the director of the Chongqing weather bureau, who only gave his name as Liu.
(China Daily August 21, 2006)