Food warnings amid China freeze

Migrant workers walk across snow-covered roads in Nanjing on 29 January 2008
Millions of people have been affected by the severe snow

China is struggling to cope with its worst snowfall in decades, with officials warning of future food shortages as winter crops are wrecked. The government is trying to convince people the situation is under control – praising officials and naming three men who died as “revolutionary martyrs”.

But forecasters are warning of more snow and urging people not to travel.

The bad weather has affected millions of Chinese keen to return to their home villages over the New Year holiday.

Dozens are thought to have died as much of the country endures one of its harshest winters for half a century.

Scuffles and frustration

Communist Party official Chen Xiwen warned of a serious impact on crop production in the south of the country.

“The impact on fresh vegetables and on fruit in some places has been catastrophic,” he said.

Travellers wait outside Guangzhou station on 29 January 2008

“If it heads northward, then the impact on the whole year’s grain production will be noticeable.”

Analysts say the destruction of crops will drive up food prices and fuel inflation, which has already risen rapidly over the past year.

Meanwhile, officials have been working hard to ensure the public that they are in control of the situation.

State television showed images of army troops working to clear snow, while newspapers published tales of workers’ bravery amid the freeze.

Three electricians were proclaimed revolutionary martyrs after they died trying to clear snow and ice from power lines in Hunan province.

Chinese travellers are trying to get home for the Lunar New Year

And on Wednesday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited travellers stranded in the southern city of Guangzhou to apologise for the delays.

More than half a million people, many of them migrant workers, have been unable to leave the city for the Lunar New Year holiday because of a blocked train line.

Scuffles were reported as frustrated travellers fought for seats on the few trains that did depart from the station.

Some travellers were unconvinced by Mr Wen’s visit.

“It’s nice to know that the state is thinking about us, but I am not optimistic,” one would-be traveller, Quan, told Reuters news agency.

Power outages

The snowstorms, which began on 10 January, have affected nearly 80 million people across 14 provinces in the centre and south of the country.

By the end of Tuesday, at least 38 people had been killed in snow-related accidents such as house collapses and falls, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said, and more have died in traffic accidents.


In some areas, people are already experiencing shortages of food as the weather delays deliveries of key commodities.

More than a dozen provinces have also been hit by blackouts due to missed coal deliveries for power stations and rising demand amid the cold.

Half a million troops have been deployed to help the relief effort. The army is also distributing quilts and padded coats.

Some trains and roads are now moving again, but at least 12 national highways in southern and central regions remain blocked.

Services on the key Guangzhou-Beijing line were unlikely to return to normal for several days, officials said.

Mr Zheng said that with temperatures unlikely to rise, people should stay at home.

“For the sake of their safety, and relieving the stress on transport, I advise migrant workers to stay in the cities where they work,” he told China Daily.


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