China fights drought with chemical cloud-seeding
By Joe McDonald
BEIJING — Parts of China’s parched north got light rain after authorities fired shells loaded with cloud-seeding chemicals into the sky, but there was no end in sight for its worst drought in five decades, the government said Sunday.
Beijing has declared an emergency across China’s north, where 4.4 million people lack adequate drinking water and winter wheat crops are withering.
"The drought situation will not be eased in the near future," said a national weather bureau statement.
Some areas got a sprinkling of rain and sleet Saturday and Sunday after clouds were hit with 2,392 rockets and 409 cannon shells loaded with chemicals, the weather bureau said. It said clouds were thin and moving out of the region, making conditions poor for more rainmaking.
Rainfall in northern and central China is 50 percent to 80 percent below normal, according to the Flood Control and Drought Relief Office. The official Xinhua News Agency said the drought that started in November threatens up to half the wheat crop in eight provinces — Hebei, Shanxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Henan, Shandong, Shaanxi and Gansu.
On Saturday, one county in Shaanxi got 0.9 inches (23 millimeters) of precipitation, while other areas received less than 0.2 inches (5 millimeters), the weather bureau said. On Sunday, about 0.08 inches (2 millimeters) fell.
The state television midday news Sunday showed farmers with parched wheat seedlings that were barely ankle-high.
Beijing has promised 86.7 billion yuan ($12.6 billion) in aid to struggling farmers. That will add to the strain on government finances as it carries out a multibillion-dollar stimulus package to boost slowing economic growth.
Premier Wen Jiabao inspected drought relief work in Henan over the weekend and said ensuring a good harvest was critical to the success of the stimulus, the Xinhua News Agency and state television reported.
Wen visited a village where soldiers and police were helping farmers irrigate crops with water from a tank truck. The premier was shown using a hose to water a field and talking to farmers.
"This is an extremely big drought. It is a test of our party committees, government and leaders at all levels," Xinhua quoted Wen as telling local leaders.
Rural hardship is politically sensitive at a time when 20 million migrants have returned home after losing jobs because of the economic slump. The communist government is trying to curb the potential for unrest by pressing companies to avoid more layoffs.
The Agriculture Ministry said the drought also is to blame for an outbreak of a fungal disease called stripe rust that attacks wheat. It said the disease can cut output by up to 40 percent.
Water Resources Minister Chen Lei said water levels in the Yellow River, a key source for farms and a string of cities, are down 20 percent to 40 percent, the Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily reported.
Across eight provinces, irrigation has brought water to about half the 11 million hectares (26.5 million acres) of drought-affected wheat crops, the Agriculture Ministry said Sunday on its Web site.