Parts of China’s parched north got light rain after authorities fired shells loaded with cloud-seeding chemicals into the sky, but there was no end in sight for its worst drought in five decades, the government said yesterday.
Beijing has declared an emergency across China’s north, where 4.4 million people lack adequate drinking water and winter wheat crops are withering.
“The drought situation will not be eased in the near future,” a national weather bureau statement said.
Some areas got a sprinkling of rain and sleet on Saturday after clouds were hit with 2,392 rockets and 409 cannon shells loaded with chemicals, the weather bureau said. It said clouds were thin and moving out of the region, making conditions poor for more rainmaking.
Rainfall in northern and central China is 50 percent to 80 percent below normal, the Flood Control and Drought Relief Office said. Xinhua news agency said the drought that started in November threatens up to half the wheat crop in eight provinces — Hebei, Shanxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Henan, Shandong, Shaanxi and Gansu.
On Saturday, one county in Shaanxi received 23mm of precipitation, the weather bureau said. Other areas received less than 5mm.
State television yesterday showed farmers with parched wheat seedlings that were barely ankle-high.
Beijing has promised 86.7 billion yuan (US$12.6 billion) in aid to struggling farmers. That will add to the strain on government finances as it carries out a multibillion-dollar stimulus package to boost slowing economic growth.
The Agriculture Ministry said the drought is to blame for an outbreak of a fungal disease called stripe rust that attacks wheat.
It said the disease can cut output by up to 40 percent.
Drinking water is being trucked to villagers and the government is launching a massive irrigation effort with water from rivers and wells.
Water Resources Minister Chen Lei (陳雷) said water levels in the Yellow River, a key source for farms and a string of cities, are down 20 percent to 40 percent, the People’s Daily newspaper reported.
Across eight provinces, irrigation has brought water to about half the 11 million hectares of drought-affected wheat crops, the Agriculture Ministry said on its Web site yesterday.
Authorities said they would divert water from the country’s two longest rivers to help farmers deal with the drought, state media said yesterday.
Water from the Yangtze River, the country’s longest, will be diverted to the northern areas of eastern Jiangsu Province, Xinhua reported, citing Zhang Zhitong, a senior Ministry of Water Resources emergency official.
Floodgates will also be opened in Inner Mongolia along the Yellow River, the country’s second-longest river, to increase water supply for central Henan and Shandong provinces, Zhang said.