KUNMING, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- A severe drought has lingered in southwest China's Yunnan province for three consecutive years, disrupting the lives of 6.3 million people to date and posing fire risks in the heavily-forested province, local authorities said Tuesday.
"Continuous low precipitation and abnormal atmospheric circulation are the three major reasons for the drought," said Yan Hongming, chief meteorologist at the provincial meteorological observatory.
The drought has caused direct economic losses of 2.3 billion yuan (372 million U.S. dollars), according to an official with the provincial civil affairs department, adding that more than 651,000 hectares of crops have been damaged or destroyed.
About 18,000 fire fighters and 5,000 vehicles have been mobilized to deliver water to the 2 million people who have been left short of drinking water in the region, according to the provincial fire department.
The province experienced 100 forest fires between Jan. 1 and Feb. 16 alone, six of which were serious in nature, a spokesman with the provincial forest public security bureau said Tuesday.
Helicopters have been dispatched to patrol the province's forests.
As a major producer of herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Yunnan has experienced price increases for TCM remedies, as local farmers have been unable to meet demand for the herbs.
Yunnan is China's second most heavily-forested province, with a total forest coverage of 47 percent.