Extreme drought overwhelms central China

Updated: 2011-05-05 19:42
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WUHAN-- An unlimited view of oceans of golden cole flowers is a typical scene in early May in central China's Hubei Province. This year, however, the flowers are strangely absent.

"You can count the scattered cole sprouts. The pond is dried up and the mud is cracking," says Huang Shenghua, a man in Xingguang Village of Xiaochang County.

Renowned as China's "land of a thousand lakes", Hubei Province is now struggling with a prolonged drought.

The five-month drought has affected Hubei's role as China's major grain and cotton producer, according to provincial governor Wang Guosheng.

About 150,000 people and 50,000 livestock in Hubei have gone without drinking water as a result of the drought. Approximately 13 million mu (about 870,000 hectares) of farmland have been affected by the drought, according to a survey conducted by the Hubei provincial agricultural department.

Rooting up a few scattered cole and wheat seeds, Huang says he wonders if peanuts might be better able to survive in the dry soil.

"An old saying goes 'a bowl of water now will bring a bowl of grain in harvest'. Right now is the vital time for spring irrigation, but we have not seen a drop of rainfall," says Huang Xiangbing, a village committee official.

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The lingering drought has already damaged cole and wheat seedlings, and many villagers have seen their wells and ponds dry up.

"The pond has been dry ever since February. As the drought continues, we have had to stop supplying water to our irrigation systems and livestock for the time being," says Yu Chunming, head of Huashan Village, Xiaochang County.

Drinking water for villagers in Huashan is brought in every other day by fire engines, according to Yu.

Water shortage has affected many people in Hubei. The town of Xiadian has dealt with a shortage of drinking water since the Xiadian River dried up over half a month ago.

"Since the water level of the upstream reservoir is so low, we can only pump water three times a day," says Xie Liang, a manager from the town's water supply company.

"Limited supplies of water aren't even enough for cooking purposes. Our teaching staff now have new duties as waterbearers before and after their daily work shifts," says Lei Su, headmaster of the town's junior middle school.

"It is an urgent duty for all levels of government to combat the extreme drought," says provincial governor Wang Guosheng, adding that about 600,000 people in Hubei are now fighting the drought by pumping and diverting water from other locations.

Hubei has not been alone in its struggles - the nearby provinces of Jiangxi and Hunan, both of which are also major grain producers, have also been affected by the drought.

The drought has reduced water levels in the nearby Yangtze River to a "worrying level", says Wang Xiandeng, head of the Changjiang (Yangtze) Wuhan Waterway Bureau.

Hubei's capital city of Wuhan, located close to the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, recorded a river depth of 2.87 meters on Wednesday, 3.26 meters lower than one year earlier.

The Danjiangkou Reservoir, which is part of China's massive south-to-north water diversion project, is also seeing extremely low water levels.

By early Wednesday morning, the reservoir measured a depth of 135.18 meters, nearly 4 meters lower than the minimum accepted level.

Hubei is not expected to receive much more rain, and temperatures there will continue to increase as summer arrives.

Droughts have occurred frequently in China in recent years, putting the nation's fragile water conservation facilities to a grim test.

China will strive to improve the country's underdeveloped water conservation facilities over the next five to ten years, according to a document issued jointly by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, China's cabinet.