"I'm 83 years old, I've never seen anything like this," said Yang Kuanren, a villager in Xiazha, in Guangxi province. "Not a single drop of water can be seen in our wells. For hundreds of years, we have relied on those wells for irrigation and drinking water and we do not know what to do.
"It is time to start planting the fields, but the earth is so dry we cannot even plough it."
Three enormous water reservoirs that normally feed the village, and its neighbours, which usually hold enough water to irrigate 5,000 acres of land, have also run dry.
Nearby villages have started drilling new wells, but there is little water to be found, even several hundred feet below ground.
In response to the drought, which has swept across Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan and Chongqing, China has mobilised the full might of its army, sending troops to deliver 1.4 million tons of emergency food and thousands of water trucks.
Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, has made a personal visit to the region to reassure villagers, some of whom are having to trek more than 12 miles a day to collect water.
Growing enough food to hit China's targets this year "will be a test for sure" in the wake of the calamity, said Mr Wen.
More than 5,000 villagers in Yunnan have been forced to leave home and camp near streams in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The normally sub-tropical south of China saw its rainy season evaporate this year, with the average temperature in Yunnan two degrees higher than normal, and rainfall at only half the usual level.
Yunnan is the source of several of Asia's biggest rivers, including the Yangtze and the Mekong and almost a billion people living downstream could be affected as they dry up. The Mekong is at its lowest level for 20 years. Over five million hectares of forests have withered or been ravaged by fires.
The cost of the drought in failed crops and falling electricity production from the region's network of hydroelectric dams is already estimated at 24bn yuan (£2.36 billion) and there could be knock-on costs for the huge aluminium smelters that set up in the region to take advantage of the cheap hydroelectric power.
To produce rain, the government began seeding the clouds above 88 cities in Guizhou this week.
However, according to Accuweather, the American weather forecaster, there is "little prospect for meaningful rainfall [in the region] until May".
A spokesman for the Yunnan Land Resources bureau said: "The situation here will get worse in the coming months before it gets any better, but hopefully if we drill more wells and divert more water to those in need, we can help ease the situation."