Minister of Water Resources Wang Shucheng on Wednesday denied the correlation between the drought in southwest China last year and the Three Gorges Reservoir.
"The drought, mainly in the southwest municipality of Chongqing, took place in the backdrop of global climate change and had nothing to do with the Three Gorges," Wang said.
Last summer, the worst drought in half a century hit Chongqing and Sichuan Province, affecting the drinking water for millions of people. Some people pointed a finger at the Three Gorges, saying the reservoir's water storage affected the flow of the Yangtze River and aggravated the drought.
Wang said extreme and abnormal climate phenomena like drought and flood have occurred more frequently throughout China in recent years due to global warming.
The Three Gorges Project is fully functional in terms of flood control, power generation, and navigation, he said. The reservoir has stored more than 10.5 billion cubic meters of water.
The volume of the Three Gorges Reservoir ranks only around the 30th in the world, according to Wang. "Many of the world's gigantic reservoirs have not been blamed for causing climatic problems, so why are people suddenly blaming the Three Gorges reservoir?" the official asked.
The Three Gorges Project is built on the middle reaches of the Yangtze River with a 185-meter-high dam. The entire project is designed to have 26 generators and will be completely finished in 2009.
Currently, the drought-affected area in south China's Hainan Province is expanding, with more than 120,000 people short of drinking water and 90,000 hectares of cropland unusable. Experts predict the drought will likely soon cover the whole province.
Rainfall has been down in the province for more than a year. Precipitation in 2006 was 1,518 mm, 15.7 percent less than the normal average, according to sources with the provincial office for combating flood, hurricane, and drought on Wednesday.
Sanya City, which draws thousands of tourists because of its beautiful beaches, has seen no rain for 91 days. In addition, scarce rainfall has caused 314 reservoirs and mountain ponds to dry up in the province. Water storage is running at only 38 percent of capacity, the office reported.
Drought also continues to afflict the southwestern province of Sichuan, despite some light rain on Tuesday, said sources with the province's office for disaster relief.
Severely parched Suining city only received 9 mm of rainwater Tuesday, too little to help the cracked paddy fields and withered, yellow seedlings.
Official statistics show that 1.12 million people and 1.47 million livestock are short of drinking water, and crops have withered on about 130,650 hectares in Sichuan Province. The figure will grow if the drought continues.
In Sichuan's neighboring Chongqing Municipality, drought has left 1.5 million people and over 1 million livestock short of drinking water, and affected 134,700 hectares of farmland.
The municipality reported rainfall of 875 mm in 2006. Last August witnessed a record 90-percent decrease in precipitation compared with August 2005.
If dry weather lasts until the rainy season in the middle of April, 6 million people may find themselves without water, according to the municipality's meteorological bureau.
Measures have been taken to alleviate the drought in the worst hit regions.
Sichuan authorities will sink 20,000 wells to provide potable water for 70,000 people and convert paddy fields into drought-resistant cropland.
Chongqing is diverting water from reservoirs on the Jialing River, a major tributary of the upper Yangtze, to increase water supply,
Northern China last week experienced the worst March snowstorm in 56 years, but has at least seen one positive outcome in the alleviation of its spring drought.
The snowstorm provided 6 billion cubic meters of water to northeastern Liaoning Province, said sources with Liaoning Provincial Meteorological Bureau.
(Xinhua News Agency March 8, 2007)