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BEIJING, Jan 24 (Reuters) - China's eastern province of Shandong is facing its worst drought in a century, with nearly a quarter of a million residents facing drinking water shortages, while more snow is expected in the south, state media said on Monday.
In the Shandong cities of Linyi, Rizhao and Weifang, the dry spell has lowered reservoirs so dramatically that authorities are using fire trucks to deliver daily drinking water supplies to residents, the China Daily reported.
Shandong's provincial flood control and drought relief headquarters has warned that the number of people affected could rise to 300,000 from more than 240,000 at present unless the region receives some rainfall soon.
Premier Wen Jiabao toured the central drought-hit region of Henan at the weekend and pledged that the government would build more facilities to conserve water this year, the Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily said.
Parts of northern, central and eastern China have been gripped by drought for more than three months, with deterioriated conditions in in major winter wheat regions.
Drought has affected winter wheat crops in 17 percent of growing areas in the northern bread basket and dry weather is forecast to extend until spring, the government said last month.
Parts of southern China have been hit by freezing rain and heavy snow, affecting crops and disrupting traffic. A fresh cold snap with freezing rain and snow is likely to hit southwestern China in the middle of this week, the People's Daily said.
The extreme weather coincides with a government campaign to fight rising food costs -- the main driver of Chinese inflation -- which have picked up again in recent weeks.
Beijing looks likely to break a 60-year record for the latest date for its first snowfall of the season, with little prospect of a snowfall next week, the People's Daily said. (Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Editing by Ben Blanchard, Ken Wills and Ron Popeski)