Rain has become a rarity this winter in northern and eastern China. The most severe drought in 60 years in parts of grain-producing provinces such as Henan, Shandong and Hebei has made it imperative for the central and local government to focus on the role of irrigation in agricultural production.
Many parts of Henan province, the country's top wheat producer, have had no rain or snow for more than two months. On an inspection tour in Henan on Saturday, Premier Wen Jiabao said that the construction of irrigation works had fallen behind agricultural development and was a bottleneck impeding the further growth of agriculture, which would have an impact on the country's food security in the long run. He called on local governments to overhaul water resources facilities and to construct anti-drought emergency water projects.
In neighboring Shandong province, more than 2 million hectares of wheat are seriously affected by the drought. The precipitation has been only 11 millimeters in more than three months. Some 240,000 residents are finding it difficult to obtain enough water for their daily use. If the drought continues until April, the total area of wheat affected will increase to 2.6 million hectares.
In such critical times, irrigation facilities are particularly important. Crops in fields assisted by irrigation will get through the drought, but those without will produce little or no harvest.
In the 11th Five-Year Plan period from 2006-2010, the country's total investment in water works was more than 700 billion yuan ($106 billion), 1.93 times that of the previous five years. Such investment is expected to be raised to 2 trillion yuan in the next five years.
Such a dramatic increase shows the importance the central government has placed on water conservation and management, but it also shows that the investment and efforts in this regard were not enough in the past couple of decades.
It is absolutely right for the central government to realize that it must make up for the deficiency in this field as the country's agriculture cannot afford drastic shortages in its summer and autumn harvests. Despite bumper yields for six consecutive years, a water shortage would severely affect the country's agricultural development.
In addition, extreme weather conditions such as rainstorms, snowstorms and severe drought have become increasingly frequent. Of the investment in water works in the 11th Five-Year Plan period, only 5 percent was used in water conservancy and soil erosion control. More money is needed to improve the land used for agriculture and also more should be spent in water-saving technologies for agriculture.
With the increased investment in the coming five years, agricultural development will hopefully become more sustainable and have a solid foundation for further growth.