China drought retreats after heavy rains

BEIJING, June 7 (Reuters) – A drought that has gripped parts of central and southern China has retreated after downpours over the weekend that brought deadly flooding to one area, official media reports said on Tuesday.

The rains shrank the area of farmland affected by drought by 39 percent to 2.3 million hectares (8,880 square miles), including in the major rice-growing provinces of Hubei and Hunan, the People’s Daily reported, citing the national flood and drought relief office.

Parts of China along the Yangtze River basin and nearby have been enduring their worst drought in 50 years or more, with rainfall 40 to 60 percent less than normal over recent months, damaging crops and cutting power from hydroelectric dams.

Some dry areas enjoyed rains of up to 80 millimetres (3.1 inches) between Friday and Monday, the People’s Daily said. But Jiangsu province on the east coast received only about 3 millimetres average rainfall, leaving parts of it still parched.

In the southwest province of Guizhou, the easing of drought swung to flooding that killed 9 people and left 13 missing in Wangmo County. Torrential rains there overwhelmed the local river and flooded the county seat and other towns, forcing 6,000 people to move, Xinhua news agency reported.

The drought has damaged crops and exacerbated a power shortage by cutting power generation from dams, adding a slight bump to near three-year high consumer inflation.

The rains will add to farmers’ hopes that they will be able to plant mid-year rice crops after early-season plantings suffered under the drought.

The drought has hit millions of hectares of farmland, mainly in the five provinces of Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, Anhui and Jiangsu along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze.

Rice acreage in these five provinces accounts for nearly half of China’s total rice area, official data show. But early-season rice accounted for only 16 percent of China’s total rice output of 196 million tonnes last year. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills and Ron Popeski)