China faces a higher risk of natural disasters including floods and drought this year, according to a top official.
Water Resources Vice-Minister E Jingping told local authorities to prepare for torrential floods, typhoons and continued drought.
E Jingping is also the Acting Secretary-General of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.
Major Chinese rivers, including the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers, have not seen big floods for several years, with their water levels dropping in 2006.
The vice-minister said this signals a higher risk of heavy floods this year.
He said torrential floods and typhoons may have serious consequences and local authorities should be prepared.
Meanwhile, there has been inadequate rainfall in Yangtze River areas since August last year, he said.
The river's water level has dropped about 40 percent on average. Two of the biggest lakes along the river, Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake, were 60 percent and 10 percent lower than their average level.
Inadequate rainfall has also plagued most of the northern part of the country.
Coupled with the higher-than-usual temperatures in these areas, drought has already hit several places, some of which do not have a sufficient supply of drinking water for herds, according to the vice-minister. The country has seen more uneven distribution of rainfall in recent years.
Sandstorms in Beijing
Brace yourself for some Beijing dustbowl this spring.
The prediction is the capital will be hit by more heavy sandstorms than last year, with officials fearing an "unusual winter" the key indicator of what's to come.
The warm, dry, almost no-snow winter is likely to result in heavy sandstorms in Beijing during the spring of 2007.
That will be "even more severe than what happened last year," Shi Hanmin, head of the Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, said.
In the spring of 2006, Beijing was hit by 17 sandstorms. The one that hit the city on April 17 reportedly dumped a massive 300,000 tons of sand and dust.
In an interview with the Beijing City Administration Radio, Shi explained that soil covered with winter snow was less likely to be shifted by high winds.
Shi pointed out that Beijing had an unusually low snowfall this winter, and the temperature was unseasonably high.
Jiao Zhizhong, head of the Beijing Water Authority, said that Beijing experienced its highest average temperature in 55 years last year. He predicted temperatures would be even higher this year.
"The greenhouse effect will easily lead to weather extremes, which may result in droughts worse than our imagination," Jiao warned.
Beijing in 2006 suffered its eighth consecutive year of drought. The total annual rainfall last year was 448 millimeters, 137 millimeters less than the city's recorded average.
(Xinhua News Agency February 24, 2007)