Droughts bring severe damage to some Asian countries

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Severe droughts are hitting some east and southeast Asian countries, causing damages to crops, drop of water level of rivers and reservoirs and economic losses.

Southwest China, including Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou provinces, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Chongqing Municipality, has been experiencing the worst drought in 60 years since autumn last year, as it has received only half its annual average rainfall and water stores are depleted.

According to a statement of China's State Commission of Disaster Relief, 51 million Chinese are affected by the drought, causing more than 16 million people and 11 million livestock with drinking water shortages,

About 4.348 million hectares of farmland were affected and 940, 200 hectares would yield no harvest. The direct economic losses are estimated at 19 billion yuan (US$2.8 billion).

In the Philippines, 23 provinces were reportedly affected by the dry spell this year, which was described by some people as the worst they could remember since another El Nino-induced drought in 1998.

A report prepared by the Philippine Department of Agriculture's Central Action Center (DACAC) placed total damages at 11.2 billion pesos (US$244.4 million), with the damage in paddy rice production already nearing 300,000 metric tons.

The drought also reduced the water levels in hydropower plants, spurring power crisis in the southern region of Mindanao, the country's food basket.

Vietnam, world second largest rice exporter, will face a drop in spring-summer crop production this year, due to the one of the worst dry periods in its recent history, said Koos Neefjes, a climate change policy advisor of the United Nations Development Program in Vietnam.

The drought dried up riverbeds and aggravated saline water intrusion into coastal areas, threatening Vietnam's southern Mekong Delta, the country's rice bowl, said Neefjes.

The Mekong River, connecting six countries in Southeast Asia, flows into the sea in southern Vietnam. A total of 12 provinces constitute the Mekong Delta, with 17 million people living and farming. The temperature there rose to above 35 degree Celsius at day time in the last three consecutive months. Water at rivers ran extremely low.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development recently forecast that at least 100,000 hectares of rice in the Mekong Delta are under threat. And it is expected 500,000 hectares or even 800,000 hectares of rice would be affected in a few more weeks, if the weather does not change very soon.

Moreover, the country will face a shortage of power supply this month due to severe drought, according to the state-owned Electricity of Vietnam (EVN).

The country's hydroelectric power plants can not run at full capacity as water level at reservoirs are now at the dead water mark, the lowest in the past 100 years, said EVN.

In Thailand, the drought is more severe this year and is expected to last longer than usual, as it rains less than the same period of 2009.

According to the Thai Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, nearly 4 million people in some 36 out of Thailand's 76 provinces has been affected since November.

It is estimated that 46,817 acres of farm land were affected, the department said.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department recently issued a warning on its official website, urging the west coast and inland areas of the Sabah State in East Malaysia to watch out for drought, while preserving water usage.

The reminder was issued as the latest three-month cumulative rain amount in these areas were less than 65 percent of the normal precipitation range.

Meanwhile, the department noted that the rain received in northern Sarawak State in East Malaysia and northern Peninsular Malaysia was also below the normal level, although no reminder was served on these regions.

Experts blamed the El Nino weather phenomenon for the sever drought in these regions.

El Nino, or El Nino-Southern Oscillation phenomenon, is a climate pattern. It occurs across the tropical Pacific Ocean on average every five years. When El Nino occurs, there are droughts, floods and other weather disturbances.

Xiao Ziniu, director of the Chinese National Climate Center, said the drought in southwest China was caused by less-than-normal rainfall and continuous high temperature, resulting from the El Nino weather pattern in the tropical Pacific Ocean since last Summer.

He predicted the drought would continue for the coming days or even weeks.

Some Vietnamese meteorologists also said the return of El Nino weather phenomenon is the main reason of the drought. The Vietnam Institute of Hydro Meteorology and Environment said current drought is an aftermath of the El Nino.

The institute said that the return of El Nino brought an unusually warm and dry winter last year, and the early end to the wet season last year and little rainfall in the first months of this year resulted the severe drought.

The Philippines authorities also held the El Nino phenomenon responsible for the country's crops losses and drop of water level, which caused power crisis.

Water levels in some of the Philippine largest dams are plunging to critical weather levels on back of the El Nino-induced dryspell, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) said Monday.

Echoing the same view, Chairman of the Foundation for National Disaster Warning System of Thailand (NDWST) Smith Dharmasaroja said the nationwide drought together with the currently significant drop in Mekong River's water level can be attributed to the El Nino weather phenomenon and global warming.

The World Bank and Philippine officials predicted that the El Nino is expected to persist until June this year.

However, some experts are worrying that the seasonal rains might be postponed by the El Nino, causing more damage to the agricultural sectors.

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