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Drought Affects Tourism, Triggers Water Disputes

Zhang Chaoying, a boatman on Baiyangdian Lake in north China's Hebei Province, needs rain badly as the continuous drought threatens his livelihood.


Since the beginning of this year, the worst drought for 50 years has been hitting many parts of northern China including Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei.


Baiyangdian Lake, a collection of 143 small lakes about 160 kilometers southwest of the capital, has experienced a dramatic reduction in water levels.


"The water has fallen by 10 centimeters and is very likely to fall another 20 centimeters if no rain arrives this month," said Zhang.


The situation is making him anxious. He fears it might affect tourism and therefore his livelihood.


Baiyangdian Lake became known as the "Pearl of North China" through writer Sun Li's 'Anecdotes of Baiyangdian Lake'. However, fame has failed to guarantee it sufficient water.


By mid-April, the local government had supplemented the lake with 50 million cubic meters of water, less than half of the amount needed to balance its eco-system.


Hebei reports 14 millimeters of rainfall since last November, down 68 percent from last year, said the provincial flood control and drought relief headquarters.


The headquarters also said 35 million mu (about 5.8 million acres) of farmland are lacking irrigation and 520,000 of people are suffering from drinking water shortages.


The drought is no less severe in Hebei's neighboring cities of Beijing and Tianjin.


Beijing, also hit by the worst drought in 50 years, had reported only 17 millimeters of rainfall by May 9 this year, down 63 percent, while Tianjin reported 300,000 mu (about 50,000 acres) of farmland are without effective irrigation.


The fight for water resources between the provinces and cities in the region is worsening the crisis.


The authorities of Hebei and Shanxi provinces are locked in a debate over the latter's proposal to build one more reservoir on the upper reaches of Hutuo River.


Hebei, with its capital of Shijiazhuang lying by the river's lower reaches, opposes the proposal amid fears it would contribute to water shortages because it prevents huge amounts of water from flowing to the lower reaches, said Wei Zhimin, flood control expert at the Haihe River Water Resources Committee under the Ministry of Water Resources.


Similar disputes have arisen between Hebei and Beijing. They are accusing each other of building water conservation projects on the upper reaches of the Juma River and therefore blocking water from flowing downstream.


Experts attribute the disputes to ill management of drainage areas and suggest a more unified and harmonious mechanism is put into practice in a bid to regulate water distribution.


In terms of drought relief, the State Flood Control and Drought Relief headquarters has ordered local governments to take strong measures and the Finance Ministry has also earmarked 100 million yuan (US$12.5 million) for drought-stricken areas.


"I hope no more reservoirs are built on the rivers that flow into Baiyangdian Lake," said Zhang Chaoying. "Otherwise, there is a strong chance it could become a dead lake."


(Xinhua News Agency May 25, 2006)


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