Drought stalks China’s food bowl

May 17th, 2011 - 12:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, May 17 (IANS) China’s central Hubei province, known as the land of a thousand lakes and a major producer of grain and cotton in the country, has been severely hit by a lingering drought.

It caused some 1,390 reservoirs in the province to dry up. The water level in four medium-sized and about 1,380 small-sized reservoirs dropped below the permissible discharge level for irrigation and other purposes, said Yuan Junguang, director of the provincial reservoir management office.

One fourth of all small-sized reservoirs in Hubei were unusable and they could be pumped for use only in an emergency, China Daily quoted Yuan as saying.

In Danjiangkou reservoir, which is part of China’s huge south-to-north water diversion project, the water level was extremely low, measuring just 134.77 meters Saturday - about four meters below its dead water level, the daily said.

The drought has left more than 310,000 people and over 97,000 livestock short of drinking water, and about 830,000 hectares of farmland affected.

“Ever since the Spring Festival in February, we’ve had no drinking water in the village. It’s now a routine for us to fetch water from about two kilometres away,” says 73-year-old farmer, Yu Youqing from Huashan village in Hubei.

Although the local government has been supplying water to the village, this arrangement could only help meet their immediate needs like cooking, drinking and washing. The crops were left out.

“We harvested nothing from wheat and other crops planted last autumn. What’s worse is, there’s no water for the spring sowing,” says Yu from Jianghan plain.

Five other provinces: Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangdong, Yunnan and Sichuan and the autonomous region of Guangxi Zhuang, all located in the south or central part of the country, are also reeling from drought.

Zhou Yuehua, meteorologist with the Hubei provincial meteorological bureau, said: “This year’s drought is partly due to the weather pattern known as La Nina.” La Nina causes lower sea surface temperatures, which in turn affects precipitation levels, Zhou explains.

“The water crisis is not because of a scarcity of water but uneven distribution of resources,” says Huang Qi of the Yangtze River Water Resources Committee.

He said that a water conservancy plan is urgently needed. The central government should build large-sized water reservoirs, and the local government should take care of the regional irrigation facilities, he added.

China earlier this year announced that it would invest four trillion yuan (about $154 billion) over the next 10 years to set up water conservancy facilities in the country.

According to Lu Zhongmei, a water expert at the Hubei University of Economics, vast wetlands and lakes in southern China have either shrunk or disappeared in recent years, which has hindered the country’s ability to store and regulate water adequately.

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