BEIJING - The drought that has affected 35 million people and caused an economic loss of almost 15 billion yuan ($2.3 billion) in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River is a persistent "yellow alarm", the National Meteorological Center said on Sunday.
And there is still no end in sight. The observatory said the dry weather will continue over the next few days in provinces and municipalities in the area despite some scattered showers.
China's meteorological disaster alerts are categorized as blue, yellow, orange and red as the severity increases.
Since early January, precipitation in Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei and Hunan provinces has been about 40 percent to 60 percent less than the same period last year, causing a 60-day drought, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
China's two largest fresh water lakes - Dongting Lake in Hunan and Poyang Lake in Jiangxi - are both drying up dramatically and, by Friday, 34.83 million people had been affected in the five provinces, the ministry said, citing reports from local civil affairs departments.
Among them, about 4.23 million are experiencing difficulties in finding drinking water and 5.06 million are in need of assistance.
The drought had also caused a direct economic loss of 14.94 billion yuan by Friday, according to the ministry, and 1.07 million cattle and 3.7 million hectares of crops had been affected.
Soaring vegetable prices amid China's worst drought in half a century have also triggered worries that inflation will climb to a new high in May.
Vegetable prices rose nearly 19 percent from May 23 to May 27, according to figures from the Baishazhou Market in Wuhan, capital of drought-hit Hubei in Central China.
The central government has allocated 1.96 billion yuan to drought relief and to subsidize the loss this year, according to Zhang Xu, deputy director of the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.
The office also ordered the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River to discharge more water in an attempt to combat the drought in downstream provinces.
From May 25 to June 10, the water discharge rate was increased from the normal 10,000 cubic meters a second to between 11,000 and 12,000 cubic meters a second.
Though the increased volume of water discharged had helped irrigate 575,000 hectares of farmland by Saturday, a senior manager of the China Three Gorges Corporation told China Daily that if there is no rainfall before June 10, the dam will lose the capacity to relieve the drought.
The National Meteorological Center urged authorities to use emergency water supplies and called for greater water conservation efforts in the affected areas.
The observatory also warned of forest fires in the drought-hit regions.