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Emergency response to drought ends, Yunnan still thirsty

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As rain begins to bring some relief to Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou and Guangxi, Beijing has lifted its grade II emergency response to southwest China's drought. But the story in Yunnan is quite different, with most of the province still parched.

Yesterday the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said on its website that nearly 18 million people were still suffering from water shortage.

The drought is also affecting the food supply in this part of the country, where more than 12 million livestock are lacking sufficient water, according to government statistics.

Cash crops such as coffee and tea have also been severely affected by the drought. Some tea farmers in southern Yunnan's Xishuangbanna are reporting yields of only one-third the normal harvest for this time of year.

Don't be surprised if the price of Yunnan coffee goes up in the coming months. The Coffee Association of Yunnan (CAYN) recently published the results of an investigation into the effects of the drought on the provincial coffee industry in which it found 60 percent of coffee farms are experiencing a drop in output. Yunnan accounts for 98 percent of China's coffee plantations.

According to the report, coffee seedlings planted during the past three years have suffered the most from the drought, which could translate into reduced output of Yunnan coffee for the next three years.

People and agriculture aside, Yunnan's renowned biodiversity is also under threat from the drought, which has shrunk wetlands, dried up ponds and watering holes and destroyed large numbers of cycads and Dove trees.

The drought has affected roughly half a million hectares of natural reserves in Yunnan, according to the provincial forestry bureau. Yunnan's endangered Asian elephants have reportedly left their reserve in search of water. Many animals in Yunnan's reserves have entered villages in search of water, while others have simply died of dehydration.

There has not been massive immediate damage to Yunnan's nature reserves, but is difficult to overstate the need for precipitation as soon as possible.

In the words of Zi Shize, director of the provincial forestry bureau's wildlife protection office: "So far, the impact of the drought to the natural reserve is not large, but its potential impact is threatening future generations of these wild animals and plants."

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