04/04/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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In Beijing and the surrounding area, the worst drought in 57 years

The scarcity of rain is making the "normal" lack of water dramatic. 19.4 million hectares of crops are at risk, in the true "breadbasket" of the country. For the Olympics, Beijing wants to bring water from Hebei, which now does not even have enough for its own residents.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Northeastern China is facing its worst drought in 57 years.  The areas of Hebei, from which Beijing intends to take water for the Olympics, have also grown parched.

Jiao Meiyan of the Chinese meteorological administration explains that in inner Mongolia, Beijing, and Tianjin, together with the surrounding area of Hebei, 6.2 millimetres of rain fell in 2008 in the period up to March 19, compared to the normal rate of 12.7 millimetres.  And only "light" rain is forecast.  So there is an urgent need "to ensure drinking water for the cities and countryside".

Meanwhile, the drought is already affecting about 19.4 million hectares of crops.  6 million of these are in Heilongjiang, 51% of the farmland of the province that is the true "breadbasket" of the country, providing wheat, soyabeans, rice, and maize.

The news agency Xinhua foresees a shortage of drinking water for 5.82 million people.  Meanwhile, is expected that during the Olympics Beijing, a city of 16 million residents, will require 2.75 million cubic metres of water a day, 30% more than normal.  The city wants to bring it in from Hebei, in part through a new canal about 309 kilometres long, which draws from four basins.  But the water is low and "stagnant" in many of the reservoirs, there is not enough for the crops, and at least 500,000 inhabitants are suffering from a shortage of drinking water.  The aquifers in Hebei have dropped by one to two metres in a year, and 50,000 wells have gone dry.

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