08/18/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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Drought leaves more than ten million people without water

Entire cities are left without drinking water which must be rationed and trucked in from neighbouring areas. Temperatures have hit all-time highs causing crop losses. Heat wave is expected to continue for several more days.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Chongqing and Sichuan province are in the grips of a drought that has so far caused economic losses for at least 9.9 billion yuan. More than 10 million people are short on drinking water and at least 18 million have been affected by the drought.

The worst-hit area is Chongqing municipality, which has had no rain for more than 70 days. Its average temperature during the past week was 42 degrees Celsius. On Wednesday, temperatures in the city centre reached 43 Celsius—the highest in 53 years. Heatstroke has killed at least one person.

"This is the worst drought to hit Chongqing in 50 years," said He Lingyun, a disaster relief official with the municipal government. "Two-thirds of the local rivers and lakes have dried up and more than 200 reservoirs are stagnant."

The water level in the Chongqing section of the Yangtze River—China's longest river—hit 3.5 metres (11.5 feet), its lowest in 100 years.

More than 7.65 million people in Chongqing have run out of drinking water and about 2.7 million hectares (7.75 million acres) of crops in Chongqing and Sichuan have been destroyed.

A local resident, Gu Qixiu, said that his entire village has run out of water. "The village well has dried up and even the dusty water at the bottom has been scooped up," Mr Gu noted. "The townsfolk have been sending us water wagons and each family gets two buckets of water a day."

The Central Meteorological Office warned that high temperatures in Chongqing and Sichuan would continue into next week.

In Sichuan, Dazhou has also been hard-hit with more than 5 million people are affected. "About 2 million people in 20 counties under the city have been struggling for drinking water," state news agency Xinhua reported.

Severe drought has also affected Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Shaanxi, Gansu and Ningxia.

In Hunan province at least 270,000 people have faced a drinking water shortage since June.

As natural disasters pile up, many Chinese will remember this "Year of the Dog as a year of disasters".

Yesterday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs reported that 2,006 people have died so far in the typhoons, flooding and droughts of the last few months causing 160 billion yuan (US$ 20 billion) in economic losses. (PB)

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