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Yunnan threatened by drought, damage control underway

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It's official: Yunnan is once again battling a drought.

The alarm was sounded at a press conference held yesterday by Yunnan Governor and newly appointed Party Secretary Qin Guangrong (秦光荣), who along with Yunnan Deputy Party Secretary Li Jiheng (李纪恒) urged local governments throughout the province to make fighting the effects of drought a priority in the coming months with the goal of minimizing agricultural losses.

Prior to the news conference, Qin and Li had conducted inspection tours around harder-hit areas of Kunming and Qujing prefectures, examining the ill effects of a less-than-rainy rainy season on agricultural production.

After touring the dried-up reservoirs at Luliang and Shilin, Qin ordered local officials to implement measures including delivery of drinking water and drilling of new wells to address a shortage of drinking water.

According to official statistics, more than two million of Yunnan's 46 million residents – roughly 4.3 percent of the province's population – do not have sufficient access to drinking water.

As of August 26, Kunming municipality's mean rainfall for the year is 409 millimeters, far short of the 555 millimeters that had fallen during the same period in 2010. The city's reservoirs currently contain 620 million cubic meters of water, a substantial 35 percent less than the total at the same time last year.

Updated rainfall and reservoir statistics for other regions of Yunnan have not been released.

The press conference, which also contained predictable appeals to solve the drought "scientifically" with no disruptions to development or social stability, suggests that the provincial government learned at least one lesson from the devastating drought of 2009-2010, namely that it is better to admit problems of this nature early.

The 2009-2010 drought began with a summer of perfect cloudless skies and comfortable weather during what should have been the rainy season that is crucial to agriculture and drinking water supplies. In early September 2009 an official at Kunming's flood and drought task force office downplayed the possible consequences, saying that the city would have plenty of drinking water if it didn't rain again for the rest of the year.

The drought ended up being Yunnan's worst in a century, creating drinking water shortages that affected more than five million people in addition to economic damages in excess of 18 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion at the time), primarily from crop and livestock destruction.

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