Chinese Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu has called on governments at all levels to work harder to alleviate drought and ensure drinking water for people and livestock in drought-hit areas, Xinhua News Agency reported.
Authorities should also help farmers increase their incomes and promote economic development, said Hui during a four-day inspection tour of central China's Hunan Province that ended yesterday.
Areas south of the Yangtze River, which make up one of China's leading grain production bases, have been plagued by dry spells since late June due to sustained high temperatures and reduced rainfall.
As of Thursday, more than 6.5 million hectares of arable land in 11 provinces, including Hunan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Fujian, were affected by the drought. A total of 8.65 million people and 3.89 million head of livestock were also short of water.
In Changsha, capital of Hunan, temperatures hit 41 C yesterday, the highest since 1949.
According to a China News Service report, thunderstorms predicted in regions between the Yangtze and Huaihe rivers could ease the heat.
And while the heatwave will continue south of the Huaihe River, it will affect a smaller area.
Hui visited Hengyang and other cities and counties worst affected by the drought, inspecting cropland and villagers' homes to assess anti-drought measures and farmers' production and livelihood.
He urged officials to do more to ease the drought, protect people's livelihoods and give priority to ensuring drinking water supplies.
The vice-premier said people should be warned of the risks of sunstroke and authorities should stay alert for disease outbreaks and fires in drought-affected areas.
Hui stressed the importance of unifying and improving water distribution to ensure better use of the resource, and of helping drought-hit areas to minimize losses.
He also said it is important to accelerate the building of water conservancy infrastructure and gradually improve production conditions.
Hui pointed out the SARS outbreak, flooding and drought this year have made it harder to increase farmers' incomes.
He urged departments to promote agricultural restructuring, add more industry, create more jobs for farmers, deepen rural reforms and speed up scientific progress in agriculture.
(China Daily August 4, 2003)