January 24, 2011 / 11:28 AM / 9 years ago

China province faces worst drought in a century

BEIJING (Reuters) - Most of China’s wheat-growing areas in the north are suffering from drought with some seeing no rain for more than three months while the second most important wheat province of Shandong is facing its worst drought in a century.

Experts say that if the drought goes on over coming weeks, with no effective measures to combat it, the winter wheat crop, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the country’s wheat harvest, could be hurt significantly.

Guo Tiancai, deputy chief of the agriculture ministry’s wheat experts group, said the dry weather had not hurt the winter crop for now, as earlier irrigation was providing enough moisture.

“But as the temperature warms up in spring and wheat grows faster, any measures which are not in place during the period could cause big losses to the final yield ... immeasurable losses.”

He urged authorities and farmers to ensure crops are watered at the appropriate time, with spring coming next month, adding the coming four months would be crucial for wheat. His speech was posted on the ministry’s web site (www.moa.gov.cn).

In the Shandong cities of Linyi, Rizhao and Weifang, the dry spell has lowered reservoirs so dramatically that authorities are using fire trucks to deliver daily drinking water to residents, the China Daily reported.

Shandong’s provincial flood control and drought relief headquarters has warned that the number of people affected could rise to 300,000 if precipitation does not come soon, the newspaper added.

More than 240,000 people are facing drinking water shortages.

Over the weekend, Premier Wen Jiabao toured another drought-hit region, the central province of Henan and also the country’s top wheat area and pledged that the government would build more water-saving projects this year, the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily said.

Drought has affected winter wheat crops in 17 percent of China’s wheat-growing areas in the country’s northern bread basket, and dry weather is forecast to go on for some time, the government said last month.

Meanwhile, parts of southern China have been hit by freezing rain and heavy snow, affecting crops and causing traffic disruptions.

A cold snap with freezing rain and snow is likely to hit many parts of southwestern China in the middle of this week, the People’s Daily said, citing weather forecasters.

The extreme weather comes amid a government campaign to fight rising food costs — the main driver of Chinese inflation — which have picked up again in recent weeks.

The capital Beijing, still without snow this winter, looks likely to break a 60-year record for the latest date for its first snowfall, with little prospect of snow in the week ahead, the People’s Daily said. (Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Niu Shuping; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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