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BEIJING (Reuters) - A severe drought across a large swathe of southwest China is now affecting more than 50 million people, and forecasters see no signs of it abating in the short term, state media said on Friday.
The drought began last autumn, and is the result not only of less rainfall but also unseasonably high temperatures, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing a central government meeting on the situation.
It is affecting the provinces and regions of Guangxi, Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan and the municipality of Chongqing. These parts of China are known for their sugar and rubber plantations.
Some areas have received 90 percent less rainfall than they should have at this time of the year, and the drought has caused economic losses of 19 billion yuan ($2.78 billion), the report said.
More than 16 million people are having difficulty accessing safe drinking water, it added.
"The drought has lasted for more than five straight months and is still developing," Xinhua said. "It is having a serious impact upon people's lives, industry and agriculture as well as general economic development. Losses are severe."
The area will experience no significant rainfall for at least the next 10 days, the report cited weather forecasters as saying.
Traders told Reuters in December they estimated sugar output in Guangxi, the country's largest sugar producing area, would fall by about 300,000 tonnes from 2008's 7.63 million tonnes. Guangxi produces 60 percent of China's sugar output, which totaled 12.43 million tonnes in 2008.
The drought is the worst in Yunnan in six decades, and has affected 85 percent of the province's agricultural land.
The drought has also been partly blamed for cracks appearing at one of the region's busiest airports, at Yunnan's provincial capital of Kunming.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Sugita Katyal