China said Wednesday that more than 24 million people were short of drinking water because of a crippling drought, the worst to hit the country in a century.

Most of those affected live in the southwest where meteorologists say the situation will not improve until the rainy season, which should kick off after May 20, vice minister of water resources Liu Ning told reporters.

Authorities have set aside 6.3 billion yuan (923 million dollars) to help mitigate the immediate effects of the drought and bring drinking water to the affected population.

Over the long term, the government plans to launch water conservation projects such as the construction of new reservoirs.

Liu insisted food supplies would not be affected by the dry spell, which has spread across Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces, the Guangxi region and the mega-city of Chongqing.

"This drought will not have an impact on food production and security in our nation," Liu told a press conference.