12/23/2004, 00.00
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‘Catastrophic’ drought forecast for China next year

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China is likely to experience a “catastrophic” drought next year, threatening water supplies and grain production, a leading water official warned in the state media on Thursday.

Wang Shucheng, minister of water resources, urged authorities to prepare for the possible disaster to mitigate losses, the China Daily reported.

“From now on, water authorities must take whatever measures they can to increase water storage facilities and promote water conservation to ensure the water supply for the upcoming year,” Mr Wang said at a water resources conference. The State Council, China’s cabinet, has held emergency meetings to discuss the crisis.

A lingering dry spell in the north of the country has lowered water levels in most major reservoirs.

“The shortage of water supply has, so far, not fundamentally turned for the better in the North,” Mr Wang said, adding that water authorities “must be ready to deal with a worsening situation next year.”

China’s south, meanwhile, has been ravaged this year by its worst drought since 1951, with water supplies to millions of people threatened.

Zhu Zhaohua, deputy-director of Guangdong Water Resources Bureau, said only 40 per cent of water taken from local reservoirs this year had been replenished.

The newspaper said drought would hit grain yields as well as regional water supplies to urban and rural residents in 2005.

This year, 23.4 million people have been affected by seasonal shortages of drinking water at least once and 16 million hectares of crops have been affected by the drought.

The lack of water damaged 23 million tons of grain, the paper said.

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