Image: A Chinese farmer transports water
Reuters
A farmer transports water from a partially dried-up pond near Yingtan, in China's Jiangxi province, on Thursday.
updated 2/5/2009 10:07:11 AM ET 2009-02-05T15:07:11

China declared an emergency Thursday in eight provinces suffering a serious drought that has left nearly 4 million people without proper drinking water and is threatening millions of acres of crops.

The Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief posted a notice on its Web site declaring the situation a level-two emergency on the country's four-level scale. It called it a drought "rarely seen in history."

The official Xinhua News Agency reported that President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao had ordered all-out efforts to fight the drought at a Cabinet meeting Thursday. It said the government had allocated $58.5 million for relief work.

Uneven distribution of water
China suffers from an uneven distribution of its water resources. Weather patterns in the arid north and flood-prone south cost the government tens of millions of dollars in lost productivity each year.

The latest drought began in November and has affected 24 million acres of crops, one-third of them seriously, Xinhua said. Most of the hardest-hit provinces were in northern China, with several in the east.

In recent days, news broadcasts have shown dry, cracked farm fields and crops withering in the ground.

Wheat-growing areas threatened
Almost half of the wheat-growing areas in the eight provinces — Hebei, Shanxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Henan, Shandong, Shaanxi and Gansu — were threatened, Xinhua said, while nearly 4 million people lacked proper drinking water.

The official China Daily newspaper, citing meteorological authorities in Henan, said it was the worst drought in Henan since 1951 and that the province, a major supplier of winter wheat, had gone 105 consecutive days without rain.

But some relief may be in sight. Weather forecasts call for rain and snow in some of the stricken areas beginning Saturday.

More on China

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