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. China struggles with drought

China announces aid for drought-hit farmers
China is to provide more than 12 billion dollars in aid for farmers hit by the country's worst drought in decades, state media said Saturday. The 86.7 billion yuan (12.7 billion dollars) relief aid will be distributed to the worst-hit smallholders and grain producers in the north and east of the country, which has been badly affected by the dry conditions, the state Xinhua news agency said. The announcement came after Beijing this week raised its drought emergency to the highest level for the first time and sent specialists to all eight major drought-hit regions to help residents with relief supplies and technical aid. About 4.3 million people and 2.1 million head of livestock are short of water, the relief headquarters said this week, as parts of the nation experience their worst drought since the early 1950s. 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 previously. The dry spell highlights one of China's main long-term worries, as water resources are being rapidly depleted due to the country's fast economic growth. The capital, 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. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 6, 2009
China was struggling Friday to get water to millions of people and save swathes of its wheat harvest, after raising its drought emergency to the highest level for the first time.

The decision to go to emergency level one was taken Thursday at a meeting of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, Xinhua news agency reported.

The increased alert level was made official at the same time as the central government sent out specialists to all eight 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.

Eight provinces and municipalities are affected, stretching in a broad belt from Gansu province on the Mongolian border in the northwest to Shandong province 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, according to state media.

Vice Premier Hui Liangyu held a state conference 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 added, 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 being rapidly depleted due to the country's fast economic growth.

The capital, 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.

Authorities were already forced in September last year into a six-month emergency diversion scheme that is seeing water pumped from neighbouring Hebei province to Beijing.

The water flows along a 305-kilometre (190-mile) 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.

In some areas, the wheat output could decline by up to 50 percent due to the drought, with the overall national output likely to fall by five percent, according to Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant firm.

However, Ma Wenfeng, an analyst with the company, said that was no cause for major alarm and there would not be major hikes in domestic or international grain prices.

"The government has sufficient wheat reserves to stabilise the wheat market," he said.

"China is unlikely to boost wheat imports much and therefore the direct impact on the international prices will be minimal."

The effect of the drought would not offset the impact of the global crisis, which has caused the prices of wheat and other commodities to decline, he added.

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Emergency as drought hits key farm regions in China: state media
Beijing (AFP) Feb 5, 2009
China on Thursday declared an emergency for parts of the country experiencing their worst drought in half a century, with some of the nation's winter harvest at risk, state media reported.

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