Millions of peasants in the province surrounding the Chinese capital are suffering from hunger, serious, malnutrition and infectious diseases as a result of the worst drought in 38 years, according to international relief officials who recently visited the area.
Ironically, in the southern province of Hubei, also visited in recent weeks by two United Nations relief teams the most violent flooding in 26 years is said to be staggering health and food problems for millions of homeless peasants in the important rice growing region.
Relief officials also reported huge crop losses in waterlogged Hubei and six parched provinces in the north -- areas that normally produce a large portion of China's food needs. Grain production is said to have dropped 18 million tons last year in the two stricken regions.
The relief teams' findings provide the first evidence of widespread human suffering and economic loss caused by the drought and flooding. As in past examples of natural disaster or examples of extreme poverty, Peking has revealed few details to the public about the twin calamites.
Last Dcecember, Peking financially strapped by a large budget deficit, quietly departed from past policy by formally asking for U.N. assistance to absorb the tremendous costs of disaster relief that have been conservatively set at $500 million.
Relief officials believe that immediate delivery of medicine, clothing and millions of tons of grain is necessary to help the Chinese government avert serious outbreaks of disease and starvation in rural areas of Huebi Province and the northern province of Heubi, which surrounds Peking.
The U.N. Disaster Relief Group quietly has been circulating drafts of its report among embassies in Peking, hoping to solicit financial support from affluent countries.
Although no official figures have been released, relief officals say they have been told that 700 people already have died and 5,000 have fallen ill or have been injured as result of the flooding and drought in the two provinces.
In Hebei Province, the hardest hit of the six northern provinces parched by the 20-month drought, relief officials say that as much as a third of Hebei's population is subsisting on insufficent grain rations and lack drinking water and cooking fuel.
Although the government provides almost one pound of coarse grain a day to each needy person, relief experts said, the cereal lacks the vitamins and protein necessary for proper nutrition and resistance to infectious diseases that are especially prevalent in impoverished regions.
A large number of the children in Hebei examined by physicians, according to relief experts, has rickets, bleeding gums, anemia, hepatitis and vitamin deficiencies. Exact percentages of diseased childlren and other figures were unavailable.
In Hebei, which traditionally produces 5 percent of China's food crop and a quarter of the nation's cotton output, the main reservoirs and numerous rivers have dried up to half their usual volume, leaving little water for irrigation of the once productive fields, relief officials said.
In the poor villages where many wells have gone dry, peasants often have to walk several miles to deep wells to find drinking water. Some villagers draw their water from ditches and unsanitary ponds, the officials added, increasing the chance of contracting intestinal diseases.
Visitors to Hebei Province in the fertile Yangtze River basin of South China found the opposite problem experienced by Hebei -- too much water left behind by the torrential rains that dumped 52 inches in three months from May to August of last year.
The rains forced breaks in more than 100 miles of dikes containing tributaries of the Yangtze. They swept away thousands of homes and, bridges power stations and schools and left more than 6 million peasants without homes, personal possessions and crops, according to relief experts.
Since the flooding, the homeless have set up tents and constructed lean-tos made of plastic sheeting, placing them on top of the broad earthen dikes, visitors reported. Other survivors have rebuilt shacks out of straw mats and tar paper, erecting the makeshift structures on the little dry ground available.
The relief team was told that Chinese doctors who conducted examinations found that 97 percent of the children tested had rickets and 30 percent had anemia. Forty percent of the mothers tested had no or insufficient breast milk.
Relief officials said the food stocks in stricken areas of Hubei were almost depleted now. The food supply is not expected to improve without outside help, they said, because the flooding made it impossible for farmers to start their spring planting this year.