The ongoing severe drought in northern China is raising fears for the spring crop and for rising inflation and food prices. From the New York Times:
President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao separately toured drought-stricken regions this week and have called for “all-out efforts” to address the effects of water shortages on agriculture, state media reported on Thursday. Mr. Wen made a similar trip just 10 days ago and called for long-term improvements in water management.
Rising food prices were a problem last autumn even before the drought began, prompting the government to impose a wide range of price controls in mid-November. The winter wheat crop has been parched since then in northern China while unusually widespread frost has hurt the vegetable crop in southern China, and state media began warning a week ago that price controls on food might not be effective.
Some of the driest areas are close to Beijing, which has had no appreciable precipitation since Oct. 23, although there were brief snow flurries on Dec. 29. If the drought lasts another 11 days it will match one in the winter of 1970-71 as the longest since modern record keeping started in 1951, according to government meteorologists quoted by state media..
Particularly hard hit have been Hebei Province, which is next to Beijing and which President Hu visited from Tuesday to Thursday, and southern Shandong Province to the east, which Mr. Wen visited on Wednesday and Thursday. The dirt in farmers’ fields has become bone dry and is easily lifted by breezes, coating trees and houses in fine dust.