The Maqu Grassland is now a desert. It starts not more than 50
meters away from the Yellow River.
"Desertification along the banks of the Yellow River has
worsened in recent years," said Wu Chonggang, secretary of the Maqu
County Party Committee of the Gannan Tibet Autonomous Prefecture in
Maqu County, situated near the point where Gansu,
provinces converge, once drew the attention of the United Nations
for possessing one of the best and largest wetlands in the world.
Known as the Cistern of the Yellow River, the area is famed for
supplying 45 percent of the river's water. But now more than 200
kilometers of the 433 kilometers of riverbank that run through Maqu
are threatened by desertification, and the region's water area --
lakes, swamps and wetlands -- has shriveled from 66,700 hectares to
a mere 20,000.
The banks have not yet been completely overtaken by sand dunes:
they are still interspersed with odd patches of wheat-grass. "The
areas of dunes here has enlarged since the 1950s because of climate
and pressure on the pastureland," said Wu.
In the early 1950s, fewer than 10,000 people lived in Maqu
County, and they kept perhaps 200,000 heads of cattle and sheep.
Now the figures have risen to more than 30,000 humans and 1 million
heads of livestock. Overuse has left the former grassland dry and
More than 90 percent of the 856,000 hectares of grassland in the
county have degenerated to some extent, and 6 percent of it is now
desert. The situation has forced 2,500 herders and 168,000 heads of
livestock to move away.
The banks of the Yellow River, once lush with well-watered
grass, are the areas most severely affected by the desert's
encroachment. This, along with drought, has led to a significant
drop in the former wetlands water level. Some 1,000 springs have
dried up and 11 branches of 27 main rivers are dry throughout the
year. Other rivers run seasonally.
The impact of the problem reaches far beyond Maqu County.
"The increasingly severe desertification along the Yellow River
inside Qinghai Province has raised the sand content of the water,
which directly influences the water quality and quantity on the
river's lower reaches," said Wu.
The Yellow River is China's second longest. It runs through nine
provinces and autonomous regions, with a total length of 5,464
Since 2002, local governments have tried a number of measures to
curb desertification. Low brush has been planted along the
riverbanks to stop erosion. "Most of it has survived," Wu said.
A settlement project will soon get under way in which the
traditionally nomadic herders will be encouraged to rear their
livestock in pens to reduce the damage to the grasslands and
China is facing the world's most serious desertification
problem, with more than 40 percent of its land increasingly
affected by wind erosion and desertification, according to an Asian
Development Bank study. Human encroachment is accelerating the
problem, as is global warming.
The environmental issue has profound social and economic
consequences, including increased poverty in many rural
communities, and higher unemployment and migration rates.
(Xinhua News Agency, translated by Li Jingrong for China.org.cn,
July 20, 2004)