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Last Updated: Friday, 1 February 2008, 22:52 GMT
Snow-hit China has 'new priority'
By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Workers in a restaurant in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing cooking with coal on February 1 2008 (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
The weather has stopped coal supplies reaching the power stations
Snow storms that have left hundreds of thousands of people stranded are also affecting the wider Chinese economy.

Factories have cut production, winter crops have been devastated, and homes and firms have been left without power.

Keeping the economy moving is now more of a priority than helping the legions of frustrated and freezing travellers, according to Chinese officials.

But the government does not expect any long-term economic fall-out from the current crisis.

China is experiencing some of the worst snow storms in half a century, mostly in central and southern provinces.

They have caused havoc for millions of people trying to get home for Chinese New Year, the most important holiday of the year.

At one point, there were 800,000 people stranded at the railway station in the southern city of Guangzhou.

Coal supplies

But the unusually cold winter weather has also hit the economy.

Steel and aluminium mills have scaled back production because of a shortage of raw materials.

The snow has also hit crops, with reports that prices have been driven up in 11 provinces.

All efforts must be made to ensure the supply of coal for power generation
Chinese official Zhu Hongren

Telecom companies say the bad weather has disrupted services. Nearly 10,000km (6,200 miles) of fix-line networks have been affected.

Transport chaos has also hit the movement of China's most important energy source - coal.

It supplies more than 70% of China's energy needs.

If production falls, or supplies fail to get through to power stations, there will be even more power cuts.

Officials say that ensuring supplies get through is now the country's number one task - apparently more important than helping stranded passengers.

'Severe disaster'

"All efforts must be made to ensure the supply of coal for power generation," said Zhu Hongren, of the National Development and Reform Commission.

Chinese President Hu Jintao visited a coal mine in Shanxi Province to reinforce that message.

Thousands of passengers wait outside Guangzhou Railway station in south China on Friday 1 February
A huge backlog of passengers are waiting to board trains

Wearing a hard hat and work clothes, he chatted with miners before visiting a port that ships coal to the rest of China.

Speaking at a press conference about the crisis, Mr Zhu said the current problems were down to the unprecedented weather and not poor government planning.

"Such a severe disaster has not been seen in China for decades. The average temperature in southern China has never been as low as it is today," he said.

The government does not expect any lasting economic damage but there will certainly be a lot of short-term pain before the economy gets back on its feet.



SEE ALSO
Transport chaos in snow-hit China
29 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Chinese freeze strands thousands
28 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: China weather chaos
28 Jan 08 |  In Pictures
Snow hampers China New Year plans
27 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
China in power shortage warning
23 Jan 08 |  Europe
Severe snow hits central China
22 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: China
30 Nov 07 |  Country profiles

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