Farming and environment will recover, say mainland experts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 February, 2008, 12:00am

The worst snowstorms on the mainland in decades are not expected to have a lasting impact on the environment or agriculture despite the devastating damage it caused to crops in southern provinces, mainland experts have said.

They also cast doubt on rampant speculation about serious flooding this summer as a result of the blizzards.

Wang Rusong , from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Research Centre for Eco-environmental Sciences, said the unprecedented snowstorms and long winter chill had dealt a heavy blow to crops, including vegetables and fruits, and had put already fragile ecological systems to the test.

'It was the worst disaster in the past five decades to hit the Yangtze River region and southern provinces,' he said.

The snowstorms have affected at least 9.4 million hectares of crops in 20 provinces, with Hunan , Jiangxi and Anhui worst hit, and completely destroyed more than 1 million hectares of crops, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, released before the Lunar New Year.

Vegetable crops, oil-producing rape and winter wheat were seriously hit by prolonged low temperatures, and food supplies were affected by massive transport chaos. More than 16 million livestock animals were killed, including 14 million chickens and 1.4 million pigs, cows and sheep.

'Actual figures should be much higher because many disaster zones are in remote, mountainous hinterland and it will take some time to produce more accurate figures,' said Lin Erda , a professor with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences' Institute of Environmental and Sustainable Development in Agriculture.

But the weather disaster, which exposed the government's lack of preparedness and crisis management skills, has less harmful implications, too. 'It could be good news for the control of pest and disease, which posed threats to the country almost every spring,' Professor Lin said.

Professor Wang, who is also president of the Ecological Society of China, said the disaster would also help crops and vegetation develop the ability to cope with extreme weather, which had become increasingly frequent in recent years.

Professor Lin said the damage to the agricultural sector would not last long because the government and people still had weeks to recover before the rice-growing season began. Rice is one of the most important crops in the southern region.

Both experts said they were aware of speculation that the massive blizzards would lead to serious flooding in summer, as in 1954.

'It would be difficult to establish the connection between winter snowstorms and summer flooding as we don't have enough historical statistics,' Professor Wang said.

'Even if flooding does happen, it could be in regions other than the Yangtze. It remains to be seen.'