Hunger adds to drought's woes

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Besides thirst, Yunnan farmer He Zhongcai has to battle another basic need - hunger.

After a seemingly endless drought in Xiaowanshan village since August, the daily dish for He's family is a kind of green grass, called Eyangcao - it means last choice for a starving sheep.

A boy squeezes the last drop from a mineral water bottle in Wulong county, Chongqing, on Saturday. The area is suffering from one of the severest droughts in history. [Xinhua]

A boy squeezes the last drop from a mineral water bottle in Wulong county, Chongqing, on Saturday. The area is suffering from one of the severest droughts in history. [Xinhua] 

Even after it is soaked in water for a week, the grass has a strong mouth-puckering taste.

On the menu for special days are the few cabbages and asparagus lettuce, stored like treasure in the family's only basket.

In He's backyard, wash water keeps several green onions surviving, which might be his only harvest this year.

In Jindang village of Muyang town, not far from Xiaowanshan, most residents have not had a bath for more than six months.

Xiong Guifen, a 21-year-old carrying her 6-month-old baby girl on her back, was queuing for water, which she said will first be used to

wash vegetables, then their faces, dishes and finally, to feed their chickens.

Every day, 22 water trucks carry 180 tons of water from towns to villages. A ton of water costs 2.8 yuan (41 US cents) in towns, but transporting it to villages pushes up the cost to 159 yuan, Zhang Yiyong, head of Muyang town, told China Daily on Sunday.

The severe drought has left more than 93,000 hectares of cropland in the town unproductive, about 30 percent of the total planted area, and also pushed up vegetable prices by 40 percent.

According to official figures, the severe drought since last autumn has hit Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan and Chongqing in the southwest of the country and affected more than 50 million people, leaving about 16 million without adequate drinking water, China News Service reported on Sunday.

The direct losses reached more than 19 billion yuan as of March 17 and nearly 1 million hectares of cropland has become unproductive.

The drought is forecast to continue in Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi until next month.

According to the Guizhou government, more than 3 million people in the province are suffering from hunger and thirst.

As of March 18, all the 77 counties and cities in Guangxi were affected, and more than 2.2 million people and 1 million head of livestock are suffering from a lack of water.

The total central government allocation for drought relief has so far reached 370 million yuan.

Premier Wen Jiabao has called for intensified efforts to relieve drought and help the affected people.

During a three-day trip to Yunnan province that ended on Sunday, Wen visited Qujing, one of the regions that has suffered the most, to comfort the affected locals and direct relief work.

"The priority at the moment is to ensure drinking water for local people at any cost. Not a single person should suffer from a drink water shortage," Wen said.

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