Wetland Protection Program to Begin

A long-term wetland protection program using international funds to guard biological diversity and regulate use of China's wetlands has been kicked off this week.

Under the program, a record US$34.57 million will be poured into the protection of wetlands in China's five provinces during the 2000-04 period. Over 33 per cent will be given from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and about US$2.6 million is pledged from the Australian Government, according to the State Forestry Administration.

The remaining funds, about 58 per cent of the total, are scheduled to be raised by both the Chinese central government and local areas that will benefit from the program.

A conference financed by the Global Environmental Foundation (GEF) and UNDP was held in Beijing to discuss details of implementing the program, the largest ever launched by UNDP for wetland protection, sources with SFA said.

The program zone will cover wetlands in Northeast China's Sanjiang Plain, along the coastal shoal in Yancheng in East China's Jiangsu Province, in Dongting Lake of Central China's Hunan Province and Nuoergai swamp crossing Southwest China's Sichuan Province and northwestern Gansu Province.

Wetlands, the natural ecological system often referred to as the earth's "kidneys,'' play an important role in water conservation and the prevention of soil erosion and flooding.

It is of vital importance for China to carry out a long-term wetland protection program, senior officials with the SFA said, adding that they hoped it could focus on tackling major issues threatening the biological diversity of the wetlands.

Major problems facing the areas include loss caused by human activities, worsening pollution, damage to ecological diversity, degeneration of ecological functions and abuse of resources, one expert said.

China has the largest wetland area in Asia at about 65 million hectares, or 10 per cent of the world total.

Chinese wetlands have 1,540 varieties of plants and 1,500 species of animals, including 300 species of waterfowl, one-fourth of China's bird families.

Wetlands in North China and in the middle and the lower reaches of the Yangtze River have degenerated, forcing an increasing number of migratory birds to change their annual flights from inland China to coastal areas of East China.

In past years, increasing population and economic development have resulted in a continuous deterioration of the wetlands.

Some experts have even partly blamed the heavy flooding along China's Yangtze, Nenjiang and Songhuajiang rivers in the summer of 1998 on the continuing degeneration of the wetlands.

While introducing advanced management experiences to China, SFA officials said they also hope that protective and technological management capabilities of wetland protection can be improved.

One of the most important impacts of the program, officials said, is to raise awareness of protection among people living around existing major wetlands.

Protecting the wetland diversity will not only safeguard the natural resources and environment but also ensure a solid foundation for the sustainable development of local economies and social progress, experts said.

Sustainable exploitation of the wetlands and their neighboring areas are also expected to be further promoted with the completion of the program.

(China Daily )

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