Drought continues to wreak havoc in SW China

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The meals of Li Shaorong and his wife contain only plain rice, pickles and a few slices of radish.

For months, they've had no soup.

Photo taken on March 17, 2010 shows the drought in Donglan County, one of the drought-stricken areas in Guangxi, had affected 82,300 Mu (5486 hectares) of farmland by March 17 and 81,600 people were denied easy access to drinking water.  [Xinhua]

Photo taken on March 17, 2010 shows the drought in Donglan County, one of the drought-stricken areas in Guangxi, had affected 82,300 Mu (5486 hectares) of farmland by March 17 and 81,600 people were denied easy access to drinking water.  [Xinhua]

Their house is dusty, and towels are as hard as cardboard -- no one in the family remembers when was the last time they were wet.

Their home village of Shiyanzi in Xundian County of southwest China's Yunnan Province is at the center of the worst drought to hit the province in a century.

The village has had no rain for six months. "The horsebean and rape has withered in the field and we're running out of grain in the house," said Li.

For months getting drinking water has been a problem. The local government has been rationing out water to each household since January -- a meager amount just enough to keep everyone alive.

Bathing, or even face washing, is out of the question.

"I use a few drops of water to rinse my eyes every other day," said Li. "I've never seen such a drought since I was born."

The Yunnan provincial climate center said the drought, which started in September, was the worst in any living person's memory.

"The average precipitation was down by 60 percent, and the drought will persist until mid May," said Zhu Yong, head of the center.

The drought has left nearly 8 million people short of drinking water in Yunnan, which has the country's third largest water resource.

It has wreaked havoc, cutting by half the harvests of fruits, tea, rubber, coffee, flower and other economic crops that are pivotal to the local economy.

Yunnan Province is responsible for nearly 80 percent of all fresh flower sales in China's market. Many cities across the country have reported nearly a 100 percent price rise and a remarkable drop in supplies.

On Tuesday, a group of excavators dug out a 150-meter deep well, hitting water in Ershan County of Yuxi City, the first success after two weeks of excavation for water in six cities across the thirsty province.

The well, which is expected to provide 500 cubic meters of water daily, will feed more than 4,000 people in Huanian Town, which has 12 rural communities and a secondary school, said Li Lianju, deputy chief of land and resources in Yunnan.

"We aim to dig at least 1,000 wells across the province to provide for up to 1 million people," said Li.

Severe drought has also plagued the neighboring Guizhou Province, where 17 million people are short of drinking water, the provincial flood prevention and drought relief office said Wednesday.

Eighty-six out of the total 88 cities and counties are suffering from the drought, it said in a press release.

In Qianxinan Prefecture, one of the worst-hit areas, villagers are seen waiting in long lines, day in day out, for drinking water rationed out by the local government.

A river in Bajie town of the prefecture ran dry in early February. "It was at least three meters deep," said Song Xiuguo, a local resident.

On the exposed riverbed, villagers were trying to wash their clothes with whatever was left of the river water.

As of Tuesday, 6.45 million hectares of cropland was suffering from drought, at least 1.8 million hectares more than last year, the national flood prevention and drought relief headquarters in Beijing said.

It said the worst-hit areas include Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Chongqing Municipality. More than 20 million people in total were suffering water shortages.

In Guangxi, 12 of all 14 cities are suffering from drought. A reservoir in Donglan County, which dried up at the end of last year, had cracks nearly 10 centimeters wide at its bottom, a result of the sustained drought.

Though spring plowing has begun even in the cold, dry northern provinces, the cropland in most parts of southern Guangxi remains infertile.

Instead of toiling in the field, peasant Zhang Yining just crouched in the field, sullen and helpless. "There's nothing I can do except wait for rain," he said.

Experts with the national climate center have described the winter climate as "abnormal." While the southwestern region has been harassed by the centennial drought, the northern and central provinces have suffered excessive snow.

Beijing alone, which is normally arid for three quarters of the year except for summer, reported 10 snowfalls since November, the latest of which fell in mid March, an unusual occurrence for most Beijingers.

Experts are hoping the abnormal weather will not prevent the country from meeting its grain output target of at least 500 million tons.

China largely relies on the north and central regions for grain output. The drought-hit southwestern region, however, is not one of the country's leading grain areas.

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