China was struggling yesterday to get water to millions of people and save swathes of its wheat harvest, after raising its drought emergency status to the highest level for the first time.
The decision to go to emergency level one was taken on Thursday at a meeting of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, Xinhua news agency reported.
Eight provinces and municipalities are affected, stretching in a broad belt from Gansu on the Mongolian border in the northwest to Shandong on the Yellow Sea in the east.
About 43 percent of the country’s winter wheat supplies are at risk, as some areas have seen no rain for 100 days or more, state media said.
The increased alert level was made official at the same time as the central government sent out specialists to the major drought-hit regions to help residents with relief supplies and technical aid, the China Daily said.
About 4.3 million people and 2.1 million head of livestock are short of water, the relief headquarters said in a statement, as parts of the nation experience their worst drought since the early 1950s.
Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu (�?}) held a state conference on Thursday to coordinate and strengthen efforts to help the affected regions, calling for quick financial and material support, the China Daily reported.
Hui also urged local governments to speed up the construction of irrigation systems for crops, the paper said, although it was unclear if this could be done fast enough to help alleviate the current crisis.
The dry spell highlights one of China’s main long-term worries, as water resources are becoming rapidly depleted due to fast economic growth.
Beijing, is particularly badly hit, with experts warning the city, home to 17 million people, will soon have reached the limit beyond which there will not be enough water to go around.
Last September authorities were forced into a six-month emergency diversion scheme that is seeing water being pumped from neighboring Hebei Province to Beijing.
The water flows along a 305km canal stretching from the Hebei capital of Shijiazhuang to Beijing and fed by three major reservoirs.
The canal is part of China’s ambitious North-South Water Diversion Project, a multi-billion dollar scheme to bring water from the nation’s longest river, the Yangtze, to the parched north.
Shaanxi Province, among the areas hardest hit by the drought, will try to induce rain or snowfall to relieve parched soil.
The province will time the effort to coincide with when a weak cold front from the Xinjiang Autonomous Region meets a warm stream from the southwest, the China Meteorological Administration said on its Web site yesterday. Local agencies will use rockets, cannon and aircraft to fire chemicals into the sky to seed the clouds and increase rainfall.
About 210 rockets and 400 cannons are in place, the report said. Airplanes will be deployed for man-made rains from late this month to next month, it said.