Monday, May 30, 2011

Drought affects 35 million in China

A severe drought in China's central, eastern and southern provinces has affected nearly 35 million people and caused an economic loss of almost 15 billion yuan ($2.3 billion), officials said.

The National Meteorological Centre said the dry weather will continue over the next few days in the provinces of Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei and Hunan.

The middle and the lower reaches of the Yangtze river, Asia's longest, have been put under "yellow" alert, after the water level in those river stretches dropped alarmingly.

China's meteorological disaster alerts are categorized as blue, yellow, orange and red depending on the severity of the crisis.

Since early January, precipitation in the affected provinces has been about 60 percent less compared to the figure in the corresponding period last year, according to the civil affairs ministry.

The water level in China's two largest fresh water lakes - Dongting in Hunan and Poyang in Jiangxi - is fast depleting, China Daily reported quoting officials Monday.

Some 34.83 million people were affected in the five provinces, the ministry said. Of which, about four million people are short of drinking water.

The drought has also caused a direct economic loss of 14.94 billion yuan, it said. More than one million cattle and 3.7 million hectares of crops have been affected.

Soaring vegetable prices amid China's worst drought in 50 years have triggered worries that inflation would climb to a new high.

Vegetable prices rose nearly 19 percent from May 23-27, according to figures from the Baishazhou market in Wuhan, the capital of drought-hit Hubei province in central China.

The central government has allocated 1.96 billion yuan for drought relief, said Zhang Xu, deputy director of the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

Meanwhile, water from the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze river has been being released to tackle the situation downstream.

From May 25 to June 10, the water discharge rate was increased from the normal 10,000 cubic meters a second to up to 12,000 cubic meters a second.

The National Meteorological Centre urged authorities to use emergency water supplies and called for greater water conservation efforts in the affected areas.

The observatory also warned of forest fires in the drought-hit regions.