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New Measures Taken to Protect Wetland
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China, with the largest area of wetlands in Asia, has promised more efforts to protect its vast yet declining wetlands.

The Chinese government has been successful in protecting wetlands, and its more than 20 research findings have been included in the world wetlands research database.

The wetlands, often referred to as the earth's "kidneys", play an important role in water conservation and the prevention of erosion and flooding.

The country has decided to give up its original plan of developing its 25 million hectares of natural wetland for agricultural use, in a bid to reinforce ecological system protection.

China possesses the world's fourth-largest area of wetland, larger than the whole territory of Britain, with the number of wetland plant, animal and fish species estimated at 5,000, 3,200 and 770, respectively.

The northeastern province of Heilongjiang, which possesses one sixth of the country's natural wetland, has ceased wetland reclamation and excavation. Provinces along the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and coastal cities have taken similar measures.

Some of China's natural wetlands are of a unique type, and contain various kinds of life forms, which have a massive impact on weather changes and the maintenance of underground water.

China once held that "natural wetland is waste land", and listed it as reserved resources for agricultural purposes. Half of the whole country's mudflats and one tenth of the country's lakes have disappeared owing to decades of reclamation.

Scientists say that the floods, droughts, red tides and sand storms which have afflicted north China frequently in recent years, are closely related to the shrinking of natural wetlands. Related ecological damage has caused economic losses equal to four to eight percent of the country's gross national product, according to statistics.

The Chinese government has started to implement the "Action Plan for Protecting China's Wetland" for the next two decades, and set up 39 key projects. The Ministry of Agriculture has decided that natural wetland will be removed from the list of reserved arable land resources.

According to the action plan, China will work out a legal system for wetland protection, and set up an advanced monitoring network for the wetland ecological system. A wetland protection regulation has been worked out in Heilongjiang, first of its kind in China's local governments, and will soon be submitted to the provincial legislature for approval.

Research shows that the number of birds migrating via China and sojourning in its wetlands has increased over the past five consecutive years, and their period of stay has grown longer.

Certain unique wetland animal, plant or fish species, such as golden monkey, dawn redwood and Chinese alligator, have also received scientific protection.

Meanwhile, the country will strengthen technological cooperation with relevant international organizations.

China joined the Convention on Wetlands in 1992, and was described as a respectable member of the convention by Secretary General Delmar Blasco in his article commemorating the 30th anniversary of the founding of the convention.

A special program titled "Wetland Envoy" was launched last July in central China's Hunan Province. The program is co-sponsored by the China Youth Daily and the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), the world's largest non-governmental environmental protection organization. Under the program, students from 10 Chinese universities went to the wetland areas along the Yangtze River to bring knowledge about the importance of protecting wetlands to the local people.

Also with help from the WWF, the first publicity center on wetland protection was opened to the public last September in the Dongting Lake area, in Hubnan Province. During the torrential flooding in 1998, the area suffered tremendous losses, and afterwards the local government decided to return cultivated lands in the area back to the lake and set up a nature reserve there.

A Canada-based environmental development corporation, RAGA, has promised to invest US$8.4 million in the form of a loan from the Asian Development Bank to conserve the wetlands along the middle and lower reaches of the Heilongjiang, the boundary river between China and Russia, and to restore the desolate marshes along the middle and lower reaches of the Songhua River in Heilongjiang Province, whose government is planning to restore nine new wetland reserves with a combined area of 640,000 ha in the next five years.

Excessive cultivation has reduced the marshland area by 2.5 million hectares, or two thirds, on the Sanjiang Plain, the plain between the Songhua, Nenjiang and Heilong rivers in Heilongjiang. The local government banned any cultivation and excavation in 1999, becoming a pioneer in China in curbing the worsening wetland situation.

A recent survey shows that the wetland resources in southwest China's Yunnan Province have been well protected over the past two decades, with the wetland area totaling 259,153 hectares, and a record number of over 124 species of waterfowls, 432 species of fish, 118 species of amphibians and 236 species of reptiles.

In the Tibet Autonomous Region, a number of wetland nature reserves have been set up, and its Lalu Wetland Reserve is the largest natural urban wetland in China.

Dubbed the "gene pool for species", wetlands are regarded as the natural ecosystem with the most biodiversity and the most precious biological and tourism resources.

The sharp decrease of wetlands as a result of reckless exploitation has made the basin of the Yangtze River, China's longest river,more and more unfavorable to human habitation. When there is serious flooding, the river may overflow and destroy farmland because nearby wetlands have been drained and are now occupied by buildings or farmland. So the excess water has nowhere to drain into.

The State Council, the Chinese cabinet, drew up a framework plan in 1998 for ecological conservation on the middle reaches of the Yangtze which focuses on wetland restoration and protection. The plan requires farmers to move out of flood-prone areas where they have built houses and cultivated farmland, and restore the wetlands.

(People's Daily November 25,2001)

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