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Drought is now nationwide problem, officials say
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The country is facing a severe drought that threatens even the wet, humid areas of the south, officials warned on Wednesday.

Zhang Jiatuan, director of the drought prevention department of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, said the drought is the most serious of the decade and is affecting almost the whole country.

The lack of rain is mainly due to global warming, experts have said. In recent years, severe drought has also hit Central Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia.

The State Council last week issued a notice calling for governments at all levels to strengthen their anti-drought measures.

About 400,000 hectares of cropland have been affected by drought this year, leading to total grain losses of 37.4 billion kg, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

"Drought has caused more damage to industry than to agriculture," Zhang said.

"Since the 1990s, losses from drought have been equivalent to 1.1 percent of China's average annual gross domestic product, or about 300 billion yuan ($41 billion)."

The country has witnessed consecutive droughts over recent years, which have posed a serious threat to water security, he said.

About 30 million people in rural areas and more than 20 million in urban areas face drinking water shortages every year, despite the government investing millions of yuan annually to address the problem.

Earlier this year, Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province, the country's largest freshwater lake, was reported to be shrinking fast.

Its surface area fell to the smallest on record - less than 50 sq km, from a maximum of several thousand square kilometers.

Experts have said the country's anti-drought infrastructure including reservoirs is in need of upgrading and maintenance.

Yang Yunxian, an official with the Hainan anti-drought office, said: "The infrastructure in Hainan Province is seriously lagging behind. Many reservoirs are in need of maintenance.

"Reservoirs can only hold low levels of water during the rainy season. But when the dry season comes, we will be faced with shortages."

(China Daily December 21, 2007)

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