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China to rush aid to hard-hit drought areas

BEIJING (AP)--China will give $12 billion to help wheat-growing communities across the country's northern region survive their worst drought in five decades, state media reported Feb. 7.

China has declared a top-level emergency for the drought that has hit eight wheat-growing northern provinces and left about 4.4 million people without proper drinking water.

The Finance Ministry has allocated 86.7 billion yuan ($12.69 billion) from its reserve for local governments to distribute in drought-stricken regions as soon as possible, Xinhua News Agency reported.

In the worst hit provinces, the funds should be given to farmers within one month, the ministry said Feb. 6.

The Flood Control and Drought Relief office has said that rainfall in many parts of northern and central China has been 50 to 80 percent less than normal. More than 2 million livestock have also been affected.

The drought that started in November threatens almost half of the wheat crop in the eight provinces--Hebei, Shanxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Henan, Shandong, Shaanxi and Gansu, Xinhua said.

The dry conditions were expected to continue into at least next month, when much of northern China's wheat-growing region can expect some rainfall but still less than normal, Xiao Ziniu, director of the National Climate Center, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

One local official in Song County in Henan told The Associated Press that rivers had dried up in the county and that water trucks had been sent to some villages. The official only gave his surname, Liu.

Agriculture Minister Sun Zhengcai was quoted by Xinhua as saying that "the situation in some areas is extremely severe."

Sun said a layer of dry soil from three to 10 centimeters (1.1 to nearly four inches) thick covered farmland in many parts of northern China.

The ministry said in a statement Feb. 6 that dry conditions were behind a serious outbreak of a wheat disease that has spread across seven provinces, further threatening the summer harvest. In part of northwest China, the outbreak of stripe rust is the worst since 1990, with about 40 percent more cropland affected this year compared to last year.

Stripe rust is a fungal disease that affects wheat worldwide, and is spread by spores being blown onto other wheat crops. The ministry said the disease can cut output by up to 40 percent.

"Experts believe this year there could be a large scale outbreak of stripe rust across the country, and preventing this will be extremely difficult," the statement said.

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