The Yellow River is drying up as northern China labours under the most severe drought to hit in years, Xinhua said. By the end of last month, water storage in major reservoirs along the river was below six billion cubic metres, 2.5 billion cubic metres less than last September, said Xinhua. The levels are reaching a critical stage as the provinces of Shandong, Henan, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia alone need seven billion cubic metres of water in the last three months of this year. By the end of next month the Xiaolangdi Reservoir, China's largest water-control reservoir on the Yellow River, is expected to use up all its reserves. When that happens, all the lower reaches of the Yellow River may dry up. The crisis comes as rainfall has been 30 per cent to 60 per cent lower than last year in most regions along the Yellow River, the Xinhua report quoted an expert with the Yellow River Conservancy Commission as saying. To tackle the crisis the commission, which took charge of water resources allocation along the Yellow River region in 1999, has decided to adopt several emergency measures. The authorities have ordered reservoirs at the upper reaches such as Liujiaxia to gradually increase water supply to the lower reaches, while water rationing has been enforced in Inner Mongolia and Ningxia. Authorities have also decided to diverge an unspecified amount of water storage from Wanjiazhai Reservoir in the middle reaches of the Yellow River to the parched Xiaolangdi Reservoir to meet the immediate needs in Shandong and Tianjin. The operation has already begun and water from Wanjiazhai is being diverged to Sanmenxia Reservoir, while water in Liujiaxia has been diverged to Inner Mongolia. A 780km portion of the Yellow River suffered ran dry for 226 days in 1997, which cost 13.5 billion yuan (HK$12.7 billion) in economic losses to Shandong province alone. The central leadership has since ordered that water resources in the Yellow River region be allocated by the Yellow River Conservancy Commission. All provinces in the upper reaches have been told not to retain water resources at the expense of provinces closer to the coast. China is now planning a 350 billion yuan project to divert water from south to the north to solve the problem once and for all. However, the project will take at least 30 years to finish. China's water resources per capita amount to 2,200 cubic metres, just a quarter of the world's average. The government predicts that by 2030, water resources per capita may fall to the alarming level of 1,700 cubic metres.