China is facing the challenge of desertification which causes economic losses of 54 billion yuan (US$6. 5 billion) to the country each year, according to an official with the State Forestry Administration (SFA).
China's highest legislative body passed a law on prevention and treatment of desertification Friday, providing legal measures for desertification control efforts in the country.
However, it is widely believed that the task will remain arduous in the coming years since the land-turned desert area is growing rapidly as a result of environmental and man-made factors.
A survey conducted 7 years ago showed that the total area of land-turned desert has surpassed 1.69 million square kilometers, or 17.6 percent of the country's territory, said Cao Qingyao, deputy director of the SFA's Management Center of Desertification Prevention and Control.
Desertification has brought about a sharp decrease in usable land, quickened deterioration of the ecological environment, worsened the poverty of the people living in the desert area, and caused huge economic losses to the country, Cao said.
Cao blamed natural factors as the major cause of desertification in China, such as shortages of rainfall, poor vegetation coverage, frequent wind storms and successive droughts in dry and semi-dry areas.
But irrational human activities like rampant cultivation, livestock raising and destruction of vegetation have to take some responsibility for the rapid growth of deserts, Cao said.
Desert-like land has been found in 30 of 31 provinces in China, but the majority of land, is located in the west.
According to the new law, new types of nature reserves are to be established in desert areas, in which road construction will be prohibited, while farmers and herdsmen living inside the area will be moved out eventually.
Cao Qingyao said the SFA has made desertification prevention and treatment top priority in the ecological construction in China.
The administration plans to publish a national program of desertification prevention and treatment as a guidance for the work.
A ten-year project to shelter the Chinese capital from sand disasters was launched last year in areas around Beijing City. The fourth phase of the massive "Three-North" afforestation program also has begun, covering 590 counties in northeastern, northern and northwestern areas of the country.
(People’s Daily 09/01/2001)