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China sends emergency food to drought-hit south

Temperatures and rainfall in the usually water-rich southern China have hit their worst levels since the 1950s.

More than 20 million people across the region are dealing with water shortages and about 16 million acres of farmland are suffering from drought, the China Daily newspaper reported. The drought has gripped huge areas of Guizhou, Yunnan, and Sichuan provinces, the Guangxi region, and the mega-city of Chongqing for months, with rainfall 60 per cent below normal since September. Guizhou province has been particularly hard-hit, with 86 out of its 88 cities within the drought zone and more than 17 million people short of drinking water, the Global Times said.

With the drought spreading, thousands of water trucks have been sent to the affected area. But in the Himalayan foothills, residents of at least one remote village are having to walk more than 20 kilometres each day to get water. Most of them are over 60 years old because all the young and middle-aged adults in the community have left to do migrant work in cities. The state said last week that it had started hundreds of cloud-seeding efforts in the area over the past few months, using rockets fired into the sky or chemicals dropped from aircraft in a bid to induce rainfall. However, Xinhua news agency last week quoted officials saying the efforts had so far been largely unsuccessful because of a lack of moisture in the skies. The economic cost of the damage has already been put at 24bn yuan (about £2.4bn) and with more than 7m hectares of farmland affected, including China's biggest horticulture base, the amount could rapidly grow unless there is rain.

The authorities have blamed changing weather patterns for cutting short the rainy season. According to Chen Zhenlin, the spokesman for China's weather centre, the average daily temperature in Yunnan over the past six months has been two degrees higher than normal, while the province has had only half the rainfall of an ordinary year. Both are at levels not experienced since the 1950s. Environmental activists meanwhile have blamed the government for making the problem worse by encouraging the widespread clearing of forest for rubber and eucalyptus plantations, which are far less capable of conserving water than the original trees. 

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children