Severe winter drought tests China's weak water management

13:47, February 11, 2011      

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Farmers irrigate wheat field at Yangtulou Village of Bozhou City, east China's Anhui Province, Feb. 6, 2011. Farmers in Henan and Anhui provinces strived to fight against drought as the weather gets warm. (Xinhua/Zhang Yanlin)

Although many parts of northern China welcomed snowfall along with the Year of the Rabbit on Thursday, the flurries were too little to ease the severe drought in most wheat-growing regions.

In the wheat field of Linyi City, in the eastern China province of Shandong, farmers are still busy irrigating their crops, hoping that the worst drought in 60 years will not influence their harvest.

Li Gongshan, a farmer from Nanyangzhuang Village, dragged plastic pipes to get water for his crops that is 600 meters away from the pond. Beside the almost-empty pond, diesel engines hummed to drain muddy water out.

The provincial meteorological department said that the rainfall in Shandong has only reached 12 mm since September 2010, which is 85 percent less than usual.

By Wednesday, drought-suffering wheat crops included 25.36 million mu (7.73 million hectares) in major agricultural provinces of Henan, Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Gansu and Shaanxi. The affected area accounts for 42.4 percent of the total wheat-growing area of the eight provinces, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Severe drought in major wheat-growing areas had challenged China's weak water management and triggered calls for the construction of a comprehensive irrigation system, said Ma Xiaohe, deputy chief of the Academy of Macro-economic Research with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

"Water conservation projects are important to agriculture. Compared with countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea, China is weak in investment in such projects," said Ma.

In Nanyangzhuang Village, due to the distance between the fields and the sources of water and ditches that have been left unrepaired, farmers were forced to buy long pipes to water crops.

Villager Li Chuanxiang said it took 2,000 yuan (304 U.S. dollars) for pipes that cost 4.5 yuan per meter, but the net income from wheat crop was only 400 yuan per mu.

On Jan. 29, China's central authorities issued a document that makes water conservation construction a priority task. The document, which is known as the No. 1 Document of the Year of 2011, said that China would invest 4 trillion yuan in the coming 10 years in water conservancy projects.

In fact, farmers have already started repairing existing ditches and digging new ones to fight the drought.

In Shandong's Jining City, where crops are suffering from the worst drought in 200 years, people in Yangxi Village of Jiaxiang County dug a 50-meter-long ditch and used four water pumps for irrigation. It would take six days to water all 800 mu of crops in the village, said Xi Dengji, Party head of the village.

Yin Changwen, who is with the provincial flood control and drought relief department, said that the province was rushing to construct a new batch of water conservation projects.

The province is also expected to increase the water supply to 191 million cubic meters. By the end of February, more than 840 water sources would be added with 470 units of long-distance water pipe networks and adequate tankers to carry water.

To help farmers fight the severe drought, the central government decided to increase agricultural subsidies, including a fund to purchase water-saving devices for farmers. Another 2 billion yuan would be earmarked to construct the irrigation system and drinking water project in rural areas.

Ma said the severe drought in southeast China last spring and in northern China this year had revealed the necessity and importance of measures from the central government.

China's continuous drought also drew international attention. The Food and Agriculture Organization under the United Nations said in a special alert on Tuesday that the ongoing drought in north China could put at risk wheat production and also put pressure on wheat prices.

On the same day, the U.S. wheat futures surged nearly two percent to a near 30-month high.

Source: Xinhua
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