China Determined to Curb Desertification

China will allocate a huge amount of money in the next decade to curb the country's desertification, with over six billion yuan (approximately US$720 million) going to the national capital, Beijing, and its surrounding areas.

Yang Weixi, an official in charge of desertification affairs with the State Forestry Administration, said this is a joint effort with four other partners: the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Water Resources, the State Development Planning Commission, and the State environmental Protection Administration.

The program consists of nine projects: The surrounding area of the Taklimakan Desert, the Gurbantunggut Desert, the Badain Jaran Desert, the Tengger Desert area, Beijing and its neighboring areas, the desert areas in Horqin and Hulun Buir, the desertified areas in the lower reaches of the Yellow River, the Qaidam Basin, and the middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River.

Yang said "among these, Beijing and its neighboring areas will be the main focus," which involve Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanxi and Hebei.

Chen Qingtai, deputy director of the Development Research Center of the State Council, said Beijing was hit by 12 sand storms this Spring, a warning that desert is extending towards the country's capital.

He recalled that the sand storm on April 6 alone resulted in delays of over 80 flights in the Beijing Capital International Airport. It also brought damages and economic losses to individuals.

Chen Guangting, a Chinese expert in desertification research, emphasized that it is high time to deal with "man-made" deserts rather than those caused by natural factors.

"The technology we now have and the natural environment in the areas will guarantee the return of ecological balance in such areas," said Chen.

So far, three measures have been adopted in deserts around Beijing: renting grassland to herdsmen to encourage natural use; building fences to develop rotation grazing; and setting up hay manufacturing bases to ensure abundant fodder for livestock during the winter.

However, Yang said, "we should always bear in mind Beijing and its surrounding areas are only a small part of the efforts. Only by starting the efforts in the vast desert areas in the western part, can we eradicate the sand storm threat to the country's capital at last."

The State Forestry Administration requires local departments to build sandproof wood belts around deserts, plant trees and bushes in desertified areas and return low-yield farmland to pastures.

Statistics from the administration put desertified areas at 1.689 million sq. km, or 16 percent of the country's land. Desert is expanding at a pace of 2,460 km annually.

To ensure the smooth progress of the program, the administration has printed out an atlas of the desert locations in 30 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, marking nearly 400,000 patches in over 7,500 townships.

(China Daily 09/22/2000)

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