The worst drought in 50 years is taking its toll, and some say it is not all due to natural causes Zheng Meifa will remember his 66th year as the one when he could not grow enough to feed his pigs. After two months of the sun relentlessly beating down on his small farm in the hills of Chongqing , his corn plants have become withered brown stalks. His green bean, sweet potato and pumpkin plants have all died. He has sold his pigs and turned to rubbish recycling to survive. 'It's very difficult this year. There hasn't been any rain since July. We didn't have enough food for the pigs,' he said. Government officials and state media are calling the drought China's worst in 50 years. The natural disaster has caused more than 15 billion yuan in economic losses and left nearly 18 million people facing drinking water shortages in Chongqing and Sichuan province , the worst-affected areas. Despite rainfall which gave a brief respite last week, temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius have returned. Chongqing will delay the beginning of the school year for elementary and middle school students by five days for health reasons. The natural disaster highlights problems with water management, since wastage of the resource and environmental pollution are worsening the impact of the drought. The drought is not expected to have a serious impact on China's overall grain production or economic growth. But farmers with small holdings like Mr Zheng will bear the brunt, giving the government more reason to pursue its agenda of aiding rural residents. 'The drought might not be so serious as to cause starvation, since farmers still have some inventories of grain. But farmers in remote mountainous areas will face a difficult situation as they already live in poverty and have little land,' said Guo Xiaoming , director of the Agricultural Economy Research Institute at the Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences. The drought was expected to cut the incomes of farmers and leave them with less money for planting next year, he said. The average income of rural residents in Sichuan and Chongqing is about 2,800 yuan a year, against the national average of 3,255 yuan last year. Professor Guo puts part of the blame for the impact of the disaster on the government. Hydropower projects, heavy use of water by industry and water-intensive crops requiring irrigation are exacerbating the shortages. 'Perhaps we should not just blame the extreme weather. Government industrial policies and wastage of water are also reasons,' he said. Mr Zheng grows angry when he talks about one of the causes making the water shortage worse in Aipo village. In a problem that emerged several years ago, a nearby factory polluted the wells and left many residents without water. The government responded by installing pipes to supply drinking water. Because of the drought, water is now rationed to two hours a day. In other parts of the county, the government is delivering water by truck. 'The wells are dry,' Mr Zheng said. Some farmers have criticised the government for being slow to deliver economic aid. In nearby Tieshi village, residents said local officials had not even made an appearance during the two-month disaster. But Mr Zheng said he was not looking for a handout. 'I will try to survive. Since the nation has many natural disasters, it isn't appropriate to ask for money.' If the weather cools, he will be able to plant some autumn crops to help see him through the winter. The survival of his sorghum grain crop, which he planted in the shade, has given him hope. Companies and urban residents are not suffering as much. Chongqing city announced water rationing, but the plan includes allowing car washing businesses to use up to 400 litres of water per vehicle, instead of banning the practice. Several companies producing paper - a water-intensive industry - in Sichuan and Chongqing said they faced no limits on water use. 'The government hasn't asked us to stop production,' said an official of the Yibin Paper Industry Co, located in one of the worst-hit areas of Sichuan. The government has restricted electricity use by some companies, forcing them to schedule shifts during off-peak hours. For residents of Chongqing's urban areas, the drought is simply an inconvenience. Known as one of China's 'furnaces', Chongqing has suffered three serious droughts during the past 100 years - in 1935-36, 1967 and through the 1970s. An air raid shelter which once offered protection from Japanese bombs during the second world war is now providing defence against the heat. 'Coming here is an old Chongqing tradition,' said high school student Xiong Wanwei as he sat on a bamboo mat watching his mother play endless hands of cards with her friends.