JINAN, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- China started a massive well-drilling operation Tuesday as the country's worst drought in decades threatened the winter wheat crop.
The operation, launched by the Ministry of Land and Resources, was launched in Shandong, a major wheat-growing province in the country's east and one of the worst drought-stricken regions.
Altogether 50 prospecting facilities, 500 drilling machines, 5,000 technical staff and 100 million yuan (15.2 million U.S. dollars) would be allocated to Shandong, said Tao Qingfa, deputy director of the ministry's Geological Environment Department.
"We will first drill 1,000 wells in Shandong. The priority is to provide adequate drinking water for residents and cattle and to irrigate 500,000 to 800,000 mu (33,333 to 53,333 hectares) of cropland," he told an inauguration ceremony at a small mountain village in Linyi, Shandong.
"In light of the drought development and actual needs, our next step is to drill wells in Henan and Hebei," he added.
As of Sunday, the drought had affected 108.24 million mu (7.22 million hectares) of wheat crops in the central, eastern and northern provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Jiangsu, Anhui, Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi and Gansu, of which, about 23.9 million mu were severely affected, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Snow had fallen twice in northern areas recently, but this had limited effect in alleviating drought, the ministry said.
Local authorities are organizing relief teams to combat drought and minimize the losses.
China on Tuesday reported lower than expected consumer inflation in January, but the situation remained complicated because of the drought and high global commodity prices.
The consumer price index (CPI), the main gauge of inflation, rose 4.9 percent in January year on year due to surging food prices, the National Bureau of Statistics announced.
Prices are expected to continue climbing as the cold wintery weather continues, JP Morgan Chase, the investment bank, said in its 2011 China Economic Outlook.
Drought plaguing north China's wheat-growing areas added to inflation concerns as reduced wheat output would likely affect prices.