| GEO World|
| Drought worsens in China's south amid cold in north|
| Updated at: 1449 PST, Wednesday, February 24, 2010|
BEIJING: The most severe drought in China's southwestern Yunnan province in six decades has hit sugarcane, rubber and coffee crops and blocked transport on a major river bordering Laos and Myanmar, Chinese state media reported on Wednesday (February 24).
The drought has affected a total of 2.55 million hectares of crops, including wheat and vegetables, accounting for 85 percent of the province's total growing area, a local news agency cited the local agricultural bureau as saying.
Yunnan is China's second-largest grower of sugarcane and rubber, but the mountainous province is not a major grain area. Farmers have almost completed harvesting sugarcane and will start tapping rubber trees in April. Lower Chinese output could prompt the country, a major rubber consumer, to import more.
The drought started late last year and has also affected the top sugar producing region of Guangxi.
Almost six million people and 3.6 million head of livestock are facing drinking water shortages in Yunnan.
If the drought continues, the number of people without sufficient drinking water would rise to 7.92 million in March, the news agency cited Qin Guangrong, the governor of Yunnan, as saying.
Drought was also reported in the neighbouring province of Guizhou and could threaten reservoirs and hydro-power generated electricity supplies.
The news agency said 21 Chinese boats have been grounded and crews rescued on the Lancang-Mekong River, which was at its lowest level in 50 years. Local authorities stopped issuing permits to vessels to cross the border because the river was flowing at only half the normal level.
Meanwhile a new cold front sweeping across the far-western Xinjiang province brought heavy snow and temperature drops in the region.
An overnight snow storm completely cut traffic to a city and a county in Xinjiang, the news agency cited local meteorological authorities as saying.
According to Xinjiang's Wusu city meteorological department, snow had reached 55cm in urban areas on Tuesday (February 23), the heaviest daily fall in 57 years, the news agency reported.
Soldiers and local volunteers have been mobilised to clear snow off the streets and buildings across the affected areas.
The cold front was moving east and snow and below-freezing temperatures were also expected in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces, state media reported.
According to state television CCTV, Heilongjiang had declared a "yellow alert" on Wednesday morning as it expected snow to disrupt traffic and inconvenience services in the region.