The worst drought in a century has turned much of southern China into parched fields and dry rice paddies, with no tap water for thirsty villagers; riverboat tourism cut in half, and cracks in an airport runway threatening passenger safety.
After several weeks with hardly a drop of rain, the drought is affecting millions of people in the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Chongqing, which represent 83 percent of drought-stricken areas in the entire nation.
The latest statistics from the office of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquar-ters showed that 20.43 million people and 6.45 million hectares of farmland are affected.
Zhang Yi, a member of a drought control expert team organized by the Ministry of Agriculture to help the provinces, told the People's Daily Thursday that the drought will reduce by one half the spring wheat harvest.
"The drought is far beyond my expectation when I arrived in Yunnan on March 5 and inspected some counties," said Zhang. "We estimate the economic loss of crops for Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi will hit 10.92 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) this year."
In addition, the drought also posed a threat to aviation safety and tourism development. At Kunming Wujiaba International Airport, Yunnan, three broken concrete slabs were found on the runway because of a drop in groundwater.
A five-day repair program has been underway since Tuesday, and up to 50 flights a day were unable to land.
In South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the most popular tourist attrac-tion, the Lijiang River, is suffering from the lowest water level in recent memory, forcing tourism companies to cancel more than half of regular sightseeing boat rides on the river, China National Radio said Thursday.
The National Meteorological Center published a drought alert at 6 pm Wednesday, indicating that there will not be enough rain to help the drought region over the next three days, and water shortages may worsen in the provinces.
Limited rainfall in a large area is expected from next Monday to Thursday in Gui-zhou Province but it may not help the drought much, CCTV reported Thursday.
In efforts to help resolve a drinking water crisis, the Ministry of Water Resources and State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters held emergency meetings to help drought-stricken provinces carry out detailed water supply plans and water resource management.
The Ministry of Finance has allocated 155 million yuan ($22.7 million) to help the drought control project.
Heavy rainfall is not predicted for Chongqing until mid April. Meanwhile, 144 aircraft guns and 66 artillery rocket launchers have been moved to more than 20 counties and districts, prepared to shoot chemical pellets into the clouds and stimulate artificial rainfall.
The major obstacles in drought relief are believed to be limited funds for drought control, water shortages for agriculture and the uncertainty of climate change, said Zhang.
Zhang suggests the government invest more money to promote drought-resistant agri-cultural techniques over larger areas before drought conditions arise.