China raised the drought emergency level Thursday from orange to red alert, the highest alert level, in response to the worst drought to hit northern China in half a century, according to a State Council meeting.
The central government decided to earmark another 300 million yuan (US$44 million) as drought relief fund in additional to 100 million yuan already allocated. The fund will be used to buy agricultural machinery and other production materials.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have ordered all-out efforts to combat the severe drought in the country's vast wheat-growing area to ensure a good summer harvest, according to a State Council meeting held Thursday.
Local authorities should make drought relief work their top priority, said Vice Premier Hui Liangyu at the meeting.
Local governments should strengthen water management in farmland, adopt effective measures to relief drought-hit areas and speed up the construction of irrigation systems for crops, Hui said.
Timely financial and material support should be directed to affected areas to ensure their basic water needs are met, he said.
Rainfall in most parts of north and central China was 50 to 80 percent less than normal. That has affected 155 million mu (10.33 million hectares) of crops by February 5, according to data released by the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.
The rare drought, which began in November, has left 4.29 million people and 2.07 million livestock in shortage of proper drinking water, according to the data by the headquarter office.
The drought is one of the worst in 50 years for major grain producing province of Henan, the meteorological agencies said.
The current dry spell is the worst drought for Henan province since 1951, with at least 2.8 million hectares of farmland being affecting and 130,000 residents suffering from water shortages.
Shanxi province has not seen effective rainfall since November, experiencing its worst drought since 1961 with 1.06 million people affected and 190,000 heads of livestock facing water shortages. It issued an orange alert, its second-highest alert level, for the drought on Wednesday.
More than half of the farmland in Shandong, Shanxi, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces have been affected by the dry weather, the MOA estimated.
Similarly, Beijing has not seen rain for more than 100 days, a condition considered rare for the past 38 years.
No rain has been forecast for the coming two days with the dry spell continuing in the northern regions, the National Meteorological Center said.
But light rainfall is forecast for Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Shandong, Anhui and Hubei provinces on Feb 7 and 8, which is expected to offer some reprieve to the severe situation, the center said.
Government at all levels should give anti-drought work a priority in an effort to stabilize grain production, increase farmers' income and ensure agricultural production, the State Council said.
Efforts should also go to build emergency water resources projects and carry out artificial precipitation to alleviate water shortage and ensure drinking water for both people and livestock. The Ministry of Water Resources also said it would enhance supervision and launch emergency plan when necessary.
The State Council also sent several teams of specialists to eight drought-hit regions to aid residents with technical expertise and relief supplies. The Ministry of Agriculture has already sent 12 working teams of experts to the drought-hit provinces, to instruct farmers on drought relief work.
Plant diseases and pest prevention were discussed and local governments were advised to supervise and prevent the spread of severe animal diseases.
Efforts should also be made to monitor or combat forestry fire, upgrade anti-disaster ability and avoid casualty, the State Council said.