Beijing is taking emergency action to ease the impact of a severe drought that has developed since last month in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River.
The dry weather has prompted fears of a poor harvest, which in turn has pushed already inflationary food prices even higher, the official People's Daily reported.
The ministries of finance and civil affairs had allocated 55 million yuan (HK$66 million) in aid and more relief funds to Hunan and Hubei provinces, and goods would soon follow, the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters and Ministry of Water Resources said. The water resources ministry recently allocated 135 million yuan to eight provinces for drought control.
According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the drought has so far affected 34.8 million people, most seriously in the provinces of Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Anhui and Jiangxi. Some 4.2 million people in those provinces are in danger of running out of drinking water.
The disaster has caused financial losses of 14.9 billion yuan with crops damaged over an area of 3.7 million hectares. Crops on 160,000 of those hectares were destroyed.
In Anhui, 200 reservoirs have gone dry as a result of a 60 per cent decline in rainfall from the usual level, Shanghai-based jfdaily.com said.
Hubei and Hunan, the two provinces closest to the Three Gorges hydropower complex, have reportedly been the most seriously affected. Of Beijing's 55 million yuan in relief funds, Hubei received 30 million yuan and Hunan 25 million yuan. Charitable organisations have also contributed smaller amounts.
Central inspection teams have been sent to the two provinces. In Hubei, they will visit the cities of Songzi and Shiyan, while in Hunan, they will go to Yueyang, Yiyang, Changde and Zhangjiajie .
The crisis over water supplies is beginning to spread to cities because many lakes and reservoirs are dry.
State media fiercely denies that the drought, the first ever in the history of Hubei, has anything to do with the recently completed Three Gorges dam and reservoir.
Meanwhile, drought conditions were appearing in some northeastern, northwestern and southwestern provinces, official media said.
There are concerns that the prolonged drought will drive up food prices and worsen inflation. The National Bureau of Statistics' price data for 50 cities released last Tuesday showed vegetable prices rose for the second straight week, and some common items, such as cabbages and celery, were more than 11 per cent more expensive than the same period last year.
The consumer price index rose 5.3 per cent year on year in April, well above the government's annual inflation control ceiling of 4 per cent.
The number of people who were displaced by the massive Three Gorges Dam project. It is the world's largest hydropower development