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Friday May 12, 2006

China: Drought threatens drinking water for 14 million in north


BEIJING (AP) _ Drought is threatening drinking water for 14 million people in northern China, the government said Friday, prompting a call for authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure supplies. 

Even the capital, Beijing, could face shortages following seven years in which annual rainfall averaged just 70 percent of normal, the official Xinhua News Agency said. 

About 16.3 million hectares (40 million acres) of farmland _ more than 12 percent of the nation's total _ was stricken by drought, the agency quoted Zhang Zhitong, State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters executive director, as saying. 

Drought was also shrinking food and water supplies for about 11.6 million livestock, he said. 

"Drinking water supply and safety must be secured and spring plowing and sowing must be guaranteed,'' Zhang was quoted as saying by the report. 

It said Zhang's office had ordered that local governments take "all possible'' measures to fight drought. 

In some areas of the arid northwestern Ningxia region, land has gone uncultivated for two years or more. Farmers have taken to covering their fields with gravel to seal in moisture, Xinhua said. 

It cited forecasters as saying there was no sign of the drought breaking soon. 

Beijing is suffering its worst drought in 50 years, the report said. 

Along with a growing population that now numbers about 20 million, the city is using huge amounts of water on a program to make itself greener in time for its hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. 

Meanwhile, annual midyear flooding has begun across a large swath of central and eastern China, with storms claiming the lives of 22 people in Guizhou province within the past 20 days, the China Daily newspaper reported.

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