By Chris Buckley
BEIJING (Reuters) - Central China is enduring its worst drought in decades, and the months without soaking rainfall are killing crops and fish farms, cutting power from dams and leaving some farmers short of safe drinking water.
Here is an explanation of the effects of the drought.
HOW SERIOUS IS THIS DROUGHT?
The drought is serious but confined to certain regions. This is not a nationwide disaster.
Almost 35 million people across five provinces on the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River have been affected to different degrees, the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs said last week. That number includes 4.2 million who have had difficulty getting drinkable water.
Direct economic losses are nearing 15 billion yuan ($2.3 billion), it said.
WILL IT SERIOUSLY HURT GRAIN PRODUCTION?
No, not at the national level, although early rice crops have been hurt in some provinces.
The drought has hit 7 million hectares of farmland, mainly in the five provinces of Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, Anhui and Jiangsu, the country's "home of rice and fish" along the middle and low-reaches of the Yangtze river.
Rice acreage in these five provinces accounts for nearly half the 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.
China has such a broad and varied agriculture base that overall grain production will remain largely unhurt.
In Hubei and other drought-hit provinces, the worst damage is restricted to certain areas, and if strong rain returns those areas will still be able to grow rice crops that mature later in the year, said He Xuefeng, director of the China Rural Governance Research Center at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, capital of Hubei.
"Our estimate is that the affected area would amount to no more than 10 percent of Hubei's total acreage, and even those will be able to plant later crops if rains come," he said.
IS THE DROUGHT CAUSING POWER CUTS?
The drought has exacerbated broader power strains by cutting electricity output from hydropower stations, but it is not the main culprit behind those strains.
In late May, the world's biggest hydropower plant at the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze has fell to 152.7 meters, well below the 156-m required to run its 26 turbines effectively.
The dam's water level could fall further to around 145 meters by June 10, when planned discharges are scheduled to end.
The drought has struck at the time of year when China's hydropower output usually surges. During six months of last year, from May to October, 20 percent of China's electricity generation was hydropower.
Official figures from Hubei province in May showed 1,392 reservoirs in the region were too depleted to generate any electricity at all.
But the power shortages threatening China over the summer are only partly due to the drought. Analysts blame a lopsided electricity sector in which government controls starve producers of price rises so manufacturers get cheap power.
That has created the worst power shortage in seven years as producers restrict output to make ends meet.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)