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Chinese military tackles drought crisis

  • Story Highlights
  • China is suffering its worst drought in half a century
  • Soldiers fire rockets with cloud-seeding chemicals into stricken areas
  • Many places have not had rainfall for more than 100 days
  • More than 4.3 million residents face a shortage of drinking water
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By Emily Chang
CNN
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- The Chinese government brought out the big guns over the weekend to help fight its worst drought in 50 years.

Water levels in some Chinese rivers are well below their average with 50 to 80 percent less rain than last year.

Drought has hit major wheat-growing provinces in northern China since early January.

Soldiers loaded rockets with cloud-seeding chemicals over the weekend and fired them into the sky over drought-stricken areas.

The clouds opened and it rained briefly in some of the hardest hit provinces in northern and central China, but not enough end to the drought. The clouds were too thin and moving too fast to do much good.

In the longer term China plans to divert water from its two longest rivers to drought-stricken areas, although it will remain difficult to get water to mountainous and remote farmland. Many farms in China still rely on rainfall, because irrigation systems are poor.

Some places are getting 80 percent less rain than they normally do, according to the Flood Control and Drought Relief Office.

Since November, northern and central China has had little precipitation. Many places have not had rainfall for more than 100 days.

State-run media reports 4.4 million people and 2.1 million livestock are facing water shortages. China's winter wheat crop is most seriously threatened. The drought has hit almost half of the country's winter wheat fields. Rice crops are also affected.

The Chinese government has allocated $12.7 billion dollars for farmers to buy relief materials, including agricultural tools and fertilizer, in an effort to help salvage their crops.

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"It's of vital significance to the overall economy to boost steady growth of grain production," said Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.

The drought comes as China seeks to boost domestic demand and farmers' incomes in the midst of the global economic crisis.

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