East China's Anhui province on Saturday raised its drought emergency response to level III as the worst dry spell in decades showed no signs of abating and threatened many areas with short water supplies and high risks of forest fire.
The third-highest level in the four-tier emergency response system was activated after scarce rainfall brought moderate drought to most areas south of the Huaihe River in Anhui and severe drought to the Dabie Mountains and some areas along the Yangtze River, according to Anhui's emergency management department.
The department said the latest round of drought, which started in September, was predicted to continue into November and further exacerbate the situation.
It demanded that local governments initiate full-scale mobilization to explore emergency water sources and preserve seedlings through irrigation.
From Aug 12 to Oct 28, the average rainfall in the province was 60 percent less than the amount in normal years, hitting the second-lowest level since 1961, according to the provincial meteorological department.
The drought has affected over 1 million residents and damaged 400,000 hectares of crops, inflicting a direct economic loss of 1.6 billion yuan ($227 million), it said earlier this month.
"The forest is so dry that it takes only one cigarette butt on the ground and 30 seconds for it to burst into flames," said Chu Maofa, a township official in Yuexi County in the hard-hit Dabie Mountains.
Chu said the drought has killed large tracts of local forest and some farmers already had difficulty accessing drinking water, but the biggest looming danger was mountain fires.
China's Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Emergency Management (MEM) on Thursday allocated 418 million yuan ($59.7 million) for drought relief in seven provincial-level regions.
The emergency fund will be allocated to Shanxi, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Guangxi and Chongqing, the MEM said.
The central government has activated a level-IV emergency response, the lowest in China's four-tier national emergency response system, and deployed over 400 teams in disaster-hit areas for drought prevention and disaster relief, the MEM said.