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Chongqing Wilts as Severe Drought and Heat Continue
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At least 14 million people and 15 million livestock are suffering from a shortage of drinking water as continuous droughts and searing heat ravage western China.

The hardest hit area is Chongqing Municipality in southwest China, which is being plagued by its severest drought in 50 years. It has had no rain for more than 70 consecutive days and two-thirds of rivers have dried up.

Although artificial rainfall has been induced in 13 southeast counties such as Kaixian and Shizhu since last weekend, the western part of Chongqing is still faring badly, according to an employee from the local meteorological station, who only gave her surname Liang.

"Artificial rain in some counties brought temperatures down by 10 C," Liang said. But she added artificial rain can only help lower temperatures and does little to alleviate drought.

The drought in Chongqing began in mid-May. Over 7.5 million people in 40 counties have faced difficulties getting enough drinking water over the past month, when temperatures have not dropped below 35 degrees.

On Tuesday, the temperatures in some parts of the municipality climbed to 42 C.

Approximately 1.3 million hectares of crops have been destroyed, and total losses have hit 2.5 billion yuan (US$ 312.5 million), according to the local government.

With the summer crop heavily affected, market prices for leaf vegetables have soared 50 percent.

Due to severe heat, all hydrogen power plants in the municipality have been suspended. Seventy-two fire accidents resulting from scorching sun have taken place since August 1.

Hospitals in the city are crowded with patients suffering heatstroke. According to Lei Shixiu, a doctor at the city's emergency centre, the number of calls for medical help from heatstroke sufferers has been rising in the past month.

"We're receiving more than 2,000 emergency calls every day," Lei was quoted by China Central Television as saying. "One patient died of serious heatstroke on Tuesday."

To help curb the drought, the local government has mobilized 5.8 million people and allocated 140 million yuan (US$17.5 million) to help residents fight against drought by tapping groundwater and improving water conservation facilities.

"The natural disaster has had a huge impact on agriculture and people's lives," said Wang Yang, the party chief of the municipality. "Fighting against drought will be a heavy task for the municipality in the coming period."

He urged government officials to take all possible measures to decrease the impact of the drought on people's lives.

Water supply for more than 3.6 million people and three million livestock has been restored thanks to drought-relief efforts, according to the local government.

Sustained high temperatures and low summer rainfall have also brought drought to parts of southwestern Guizhou Province, the central province of Hubei and northwest Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Gansu Province,

A total of 2.5 billion yuan (US$ 312 million) has been injected to combat drought across the country, and drinking water difficulties of more than 12 million people have been resolved, according to a news release from the nation's office for flood control and drought relief.

While the West suffers drought, east and south China have been battered by a series of typhoons and tropical storms this year that have killed about 1,300 people.

The death toll from Typhoon Saomai, which hit China on Thursday, has reached 319 and could rise further, reports said.

(China Daily August 17, 2006)

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