Up to 6 million people have been affected by drought in south and southwestern China. Conditions are said to be the most arid in more than half a century, echoing the situation on the similarly drought-stricken North China Plain before the winter snows.
In Yunnan, more than 5 million people are facing water shortages and four fifths of all farmland has been affected, according to provincial governor Qin Guangrong. The economic cost is being put at near $1 billion. The dry conditions allied to strong winds are causing an exceptionally high number of forest fires. In neighboring Guizhou to the northwest, about a quarter of a million people are short of water.
Some areas of Guangxi, which like Yunnan borders Vietnam, haven’t seen rainfall since last August. Rivers are drying up. Drinking water is being trucked into villages, where Xinhua reports, more than a quarter of a million people are short of water. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited affected areas last week to inspect relief efforts. Guangxi produces 60% of the country’s sugar. Production is estimated to have fallen 5% in 2009 because of the drought. Sugarcane prices have hit a three-year high.
Weather forecasters see no rain in the immediate future going into spring planting. Cloud seeding operations to force rainfall have had only spotty success. The rainy season in the region doesn’t usually start until May.