A leading water official urged local authorities to be better prepared to fight against large-scale drought and seasonal flooding that could hit China this year, experts warned.
"This year, many signs have indicated that China is facing an increasing possibility of drought and serious shortages of water resources," said Wang Shucheng, minister of water resources, in his latest report.
The weather phenomenon El Nino will hit China in April or May, according to predictions from the National Research Centre for Marine Environment Forecasts in Beijing.
North China will probably experience high temperatures and drought this summer, while southern China is likely to be affected by flooding, a researcher of the centre said.
The climatic condition was blamed for the summer of 1998's devastating floods along the Yangtze River in the South and the Songhua River in the Northeast that claimed more than 4,000 lives and left US$30 billion in direct economic damage.
Meanwhile, Wang made it clear that "we cannot eliminate the possibility of catastrophic floods of China's major rivers and lakes or regional devastating flooding this year."
China has to get ready to fight against possible droughts and floods this year as they have caused havoc on economy in the past, Wang said.
Damages could possibly be mitigated with well-prepared anti-flood forces and facilities, he added.
Wang called on local governments to try every possible means to find new water resources and adopt more water-saving measures to ensure a bumper grain harvest this year.
Last year, North China experienced a rare drought which affected about 38.5 million hectares of crops.
Worst of all, there was nothing to harvest in more than 6.4 million hectares of grain-growing land, according to the latest official statistics.
As a result, China lost 53.8 billion yuan (US$6.4 billion) in cash-crops during the drought, according to the ministry.
The drought also caused temporary shortages in drinking water for 33 million rural people and 22 million head of livestock, Wang said.
In North China, water had been in short supply for weeks in more than 500 cities including Tianjin, Tangshan, Dalian and Yantai.
Some cities even had to adopt water rationing.
This year, Wang pledged his ministry will intensify regulation of the country's existing water resources with the priority of making water available to millions of citizens and key cities.
(China Daily February 22, 2002)