China drought
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Farmers and experts fear the drought may damage harvests.
Hundreds of thousands of people in southern and eastern parts of China are facing drinking water shortages as a result of months of reduced rainfall, the central government says.

The Ministry of Water Resources said on Thursday that more than 500,000 hectares of arable land had been affected by the drought, leaving 330,000 people in rural areas without a sufficient supply of potable water.

Since October, rainfall in regions south of the Yangtze River had been 50 to 80 per cent lower than normal, it said.

About 2.4 million people in the provinces of Zhejiang, Guangdong and Fujian had already been affected by the drought, and concerns were growing in Guangxi, Hunan and Yunnan, the ministry said.

In Taizhou, Zhejiang, the residents of Sanmen county are dealing with their worst drought in 50 years, according to a report by state broadcaster CCTV.

Local authorities have ordered the water supply to people's homes to be switched off on alternate days, and non-essential businesses that use large quantities of water have been told to suspend their operations.

In rural areas, drinking water is delivered to residents by fire engines and new wells are being sunk in a bid to increase the supply.

Chen Yun, who lives in Sanmen, said he had never seen such a drought.

"This year is very, very special," the 30-year-old said in an interview. "We never lacked water in winter here before."

Wang Zhangmeng, who owns a car wash in the Zhejiang city of Wenzhou, said the drought had had a major impact on people's lives.

"It hasn't rained for several months. I've never seen anything like it," he said.

As in Sanmen, the water supply to Wang's home is turned off every other day, and he said he had turned to using water collected from mountain streams to keep his business open without breaking the rules.

But the increased cost of doing so, and the lack of business meant his earnings were down by about 30,000 yuan (US$4,600).

"It's almost the Lunar New Year, which is usually a busy season, but we're only getting a handful of cars each day," he said.

Yuan Yuan, deputy director of the China Meteorological Administration's forecasting office, said in an interview with that the drought was mostly caused by La Nina, a complex weather pattern that occurs every few years as a result of variations in ocean temperatures in the equatorial band of the Pacific Ocean.

"The abnormal cyclone circulation has continued since October, and its intensity increased this winter," she said.

Qian Yonglan, a senior researcher at the National Meteorological Centre, said the drought had already had a detrimental impact on autumn and winter crops like potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and bananas, and could pose a threat to rice harvests if it continued.

"If the precipitation continues to be low, it may affect rice seeding and planting," she said.

"However, as early rice has not yet been planted on a large scale, the impact so far has been limited."

The Zhejiang government has not released figures on the drought's effect on agricultural production, but said the lack of rain was likely to last at least until April.