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Prolonged Drought Deprives Chinese of Drinking Water
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Close on 5 million people and more than 2.5 million head of livestock on the Chinese mainland are suffering drinking water shortages as drought continues to grip parts of the country.

Shandong, a major agricultural province on east China's seaboard, has been suffering from drought since autumn.

In Guizhou, a land-locked province in southwest China, 707,000 people and 326,000 head of livestock are battling with drinking water shortages.

Information from the Office for Natural Disaster Relief in southwest Sichuan said the province has been trying to cope with a serious drought since winter, with 1.12 million people, together with 1.47 million head of livestock, having difficulty finding water to drink.

Sichuan meteorological authorities said that temperatures had been abnormally high, and 74 out of 131 agricultural counties and cities had experienced less rainfall than normal years.

Drought continues to rake Chongqing, the most important city on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.

Chongqing vice mayor Ma Zhengqi warned on Friday drinking water would be a problem for nearly six million people until the flood season starts in May.

Chongqing's reservoirs currently hold 1.24 billion cubic meters of water, only 45 percent of the normal amount. About 1.5 million people in 25 districts and counties are already suffering water shortages, he said.

The drought has affected agricultural production in all these regions.

In Shandong, where crops on 1.12 million hectares, or about one fifth of the province's arable land, are starved of water, local farmers have had to leave more than 200,000 hectares of farmland idle, according to Fan Liju, a senior engineer with Shandong Provincial Climate Center.

The prolonged drought has seen underground water levels in some parts of the province drop alarmingly and water quality worsen, said local sources.

Shandong, the second most populous region in China, is one of the country's leading grain producers. But it has had to make do with low rainfall since September.

Statistics from Shandong Provincial Meteorological Observatory show that only 51.4 millimeters of rainfall were recorded between Sept.1, 2006 and Feb.1, 2007, 83.7 mm less than normal years or 194 mm less than for the same period a year ago.

Measures have been taken to alleviate the drought in different regions.

In addition to developing sources of water and preserving water for use in emergency in more than 50,000 places, some Shandong localities have begun popularizing water-efficient irrigation methods.

Reservoirs across the province have provided more than five billion cubic meters of extra water to combat drought and offer drinkable water to 3.9 million people and 690,000 livestock.

At the request of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters on Friday, operators of three hydropower stations on the upper reaches of Jialing River, a tributary of the mighty Yangtze, on Saturday morning released water downstream in a bid to quench Chongqing's thirst.

The water was expected to arrive in Chongqing on Saturday afternoon.

(Xinhua News Agency March 4, 2007)

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