September 2, 2006

China says rain to ease drought

BEIJING -- China is predicting rain next week to ease the worst drought to hit southwest China in more than a century and bring down record-high temperatures.

The densely populated municipality of Chongqing and eastern parts of Sichuan province have been plagued by repeated heatwaves and have seen no significant rainfall since early July.

Xinhua news agency quoted forecasters as saying there would be rain in the area, which is home to about 30 million people, over the next 10 days.

"The rain might lower the uncomfortably high temperatures... but they are set to hover above 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) until (next) Sunday," it said.

The drought is the worst since 1891 when meteorological records began in Chongqing and had brought direct economic losses totaling 6.5 billion yuan ($817 million), Xinhua said earlier.

Heat and drought have also hit the neighboring province of Guizhou, the eastern provinces of Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangxi, and the central provinces of Hunan and Hubei.

Temperatures of up to 42.4 degrees Celsius (108.3 degrees Fahrenheit) were recorded in Chongqing on Thursday, after a high of 43.4 C on Wednesday.

Chongqing city, the industrial heart of the municipality with a population of 12 million, reported a record high of 44.5 C on August 16.

About 18 million people have been short of drinking water and 11 million hectares (27.5 million acres) of crops, mostly rice but including corn and tobacco, have been destroyed or damaged, Xinhua news agency said.

But there have been no reports of deaths.

China's east and southeast have been repeatedly battered by typhoons and floods this summer, killing more than 1,000 people.