February 26, 2008 / 3:32 AM / 12 years ago

CORRECTED: China's Olympic water province faces severe drought

Corrects conversion of 33,000 sq km in last paragraph.

A boat lies upturned on the nearly dried-up Xi Da Yang Dam near the town of Dayang in Hebei Province, south of Beijing, January 16, 2008. REUTERS/David Gray

BEIJING (Reuters) - The north Chinese province of Hebei, which will supply arid Beijing with much of its water for the summer Olympics, is suffering severe drought, with half a million residents likely to face hardships with drinking water.

Hebei lies next to China’s national capital and has long provided the city’s 16 million residents with most of their water.

With Beijing’s water demand during the Olympics expected to spike by up to 30 percent above average, reaching 2.75 million cubic meters a day, Hebei has been recruited to supply an extra 300 million cubic meters of “back-up” supplies.

But on Tuesday the official Hebei Daily said lack of winter rain and snow had intensified the drought, leaving some reservoirs dangerously low.

“Due to the lack of effective precipitation since the winter, Hebei province is experiencing severe drought,” the newspaper said, citing officials in the provincial flood and drought office.

Since the start of winter which has been unusually cold in the south, average precipitation across Hebei had been 7 mm, 60 percent below the long-term average.

“The severe drought has created tense conditions for fighting drought and for water supplies in our province, and the conflict between water supply and demand has been dramatically exacerbated.”

China is rushing to finish the canals from Hebei to Beijing for its “green” Games, ensuring a lush, sparkling host city greets the world in August. The 309 km (192 miles) of channels and pipes will draw on four Hebei dams.

But the report said the province’s dams were in trouble. “Some dams are below stagnant levels, and some irrigation areas have no water to supply,” it said.

It did not say whether the four dams tapped to supply the Olympics were among them.

While much of China’s southern half endured freakish cold and snow in recent months, the north, including Beijing, has seen very little snow or rain, leaving much farmland parched.

Drought has affected 1.89 million head of livestock and left 2.43 million people without sufficient drinking water in Shandong, Heilongjiang and Hebei provinces, the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said recently.

Now 250,000 Hebei residents faced “temporary hardship” with drinking water, and by March that number was expected to rise to 500,000, said the new report, which was republished on the official Xinhua news agency Web site (www.xinhuanet.com).

The report said 33,000 sq km (12,740 sq miles) of farmland across its total 190,000 sq km were drought-stricken. Aquifer water levels on the Hebei plains had fallen one to two meters since the same time last year. And 50,000 wells had been left useless.

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie and Sanjeev Miglani

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