Drought put north China on red alert
Updated: 2009-02-03 15:30
By Xinhua writers Yang Bo and Zhang Xingjun

"The wheat grass gets so dry that it catches fire! I've never seen this in my whole life," said 50-year-old Wei Liuding in Baisha village, Muzhong County of North China's Henan Province.

Wang Hongwei, a farmer from Putaojia Village of Henan's Lankao County, grievingly held a grasp of wheat grass roots in his hand.

"All the wheat in my land is dying like this," he told a Xinhua reporter.

Henan, China's major grain producer, issued a red alert for drought Thursday. The provincial meteorological bureau said the drought is the worst since 1951. The drought have affected about 63 percent of the province's 78.9 million mu (5.26 million hectares) of wheat.

But Henan Province is not the only victim in thirsty northern China.

Anhui Province issued a red drought alert Sunday, forecasting a major drought that will plague more than 60 percent of the crops north of the Huaihe River is no rain is reported by next week.

Shanxi Province was put on orange drought alert on January 21, as nearly one million people and 160,000 heads of livestock are facing water shortage.

Provinces such as Shaanxi, Shandong, Hebei and Jiangsu are also reeling from droughts.

According to the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters on Sunday, the droughts in northern China have affected about 145 million mu (9.67 million hectares) of crops, and have left 3.7 million people and 1.85 million livestock with poor access to drinking water.

Secretary of the office E Jingping said the headquarters sent four working teams to eight provinces to supervise the drought relief work.

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) has allocated 100 million yuan (14.6 million U.S. dollars) in emergency funding to help ease the drought.

E said about 1.38 billion yuan had been used to fund the relief work since the end of December. Some 74.60 million mu (4.97 million hectares) of farmland have been irrigated, and drinking water shortages have been eased for about 500,000 people and 280,000 livestock.

The irrigation system in the drought area is under a crucial test. The water flow under Xiaolangdi Dam on the Yellow River reached 550 cubic meters per second as of 2 p.m. Saturday, to help soothe the drought in Henan Province.

"The water in my well is very deep today," Wei Liuding told Xinhua reporter Sunday.

"Although we were informed that the government's subsidies will be soon handed out to households, I decided not to merely rely on the government, and I am now irrigating the lands for four hours a day at my own expense."

But with a family of five, Wang Hongwei was more worried.

"Though we irrigate the lands now, the production will surely see a big drop. Like many other people in our village, I am thinking about doing odd jobs in the town to earn some extra cash."

Li Xin, an advocate for the income and rights of farmers and migrant workers who opened a company to sue false seed producers, said, "Even if the farmers go to towns and cities to work, their pays will wane as the financial crisis continues to loom."

Duan Aiming, head of the Irrigation Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences, said the current drought has "sound an alarm to the water resource utility in northern China".

"Much water is being wasted, because many mature irrigation technologies cannot be put into practice for lack of funds, and the input on irrigation infrastructure is not enough," said Duan.

"Only by a long-term improvement of the irrigation system can the government realize its goal of increasing the grain yield and the farmers' income," said Li.

In the first document of the year issued jointly  by the State Council and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Sunday, local authorities were urged to take measures to avoid declining grain production, ensure the steady expansion of agriculture and rural stability.

"The foundation for securing steady and relatively fast economic growth is based upon agriculture; the toughest work of securing and improving people's livelihoods stays with farmers," it said.