China has intensified its efforts to halt the expansion of deserts with further huge investment and greenbelt projects.
In the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, with the largest desert area in the country, a series of projects to prevent the expansion of deserts are underway or have been planned.
Xinjiang has a desert area of 404,000 square kilometers (155,944 square miles), accounting for 63 percent of the country's total desert area and 25 percent of the region's land space.
The Chinese government has invested 10.7 billion yuan (US$1.3 billion) in harnessing the Tarim Basin in an effort to form a greenbelt between two giant deserts in Xinjiang, the Taklimakan and Gurbantunggut Deserts, and to stop them merging.
In the north of Xinjiang, where serious sandstorms often occur, the local government has launched a program to improve the ecological environment to curb the invasion of deserts into oases.
Local officials said a shelter forest is expected to be built along the southern border of the Gurbantunggut Desert, the second desert in Xinjiang, in the near future.
The shelter belt will effectively prevent the southward movement of the desert and guarantee a sound ecological environment for economic development, the officials said.
Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture has kicked off a project to improve vegetation over 15,000 hectares (37,065 acres) along the brim of the Gurbantunggut. The project is costing US$28.57 million, with 20 million loaned by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.
An official with the prefectural forestry bureau said that upon completion of the project, a 75-kilomter-long and two-kilometer-wide shelter forest will be built along the southern rim of the Gurbantunggut Desert. The shelter belt is expected to effectively curb the southward spread of the desert and protect local croplands, highways and reservoirs against desertification and weathering.
The local government is also encouraging work units and individuals to join the efforts to harness barren land.
As a result of short-sighted farmland reclamations and excessive grazing of the pastoral areas over the past two decades, Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture has witnessed a sharp shrinkage in its forest and deterioration of grasslands.
Irrational use of water resources has led to a drop in underground water levels and the deaths of large numbers of wild plants. The expanding desert has threatened agricultural development and the environment of local people.
To improve the environment, the local government pays close attention to protecting natural plants growing in the desert and Gobi area.
Changji has 1.77 million hectares (4.37 million acres) of natural bushes, of which 1.06 million hectares (2.62 million acres) have been put under key protection.
Changji has also fenced off more than 660,000 hectares (1,630,860 acres) of desert for planting trees. The project area stretches 20 to 30 kilometers deep into the Gurbantunggut Desert.
Meanwhile, all townships by oases and adjacent to the desert have joined to launch a project to control the desert and plant trees in an area of more than 33,000 hectares (81,543 acres).
As local people are encouraged to grow forestry crops, fodder and medicinal materials, the local government expects to achieve a win-win result in ecological protection and in raising incomes.
The projects to control the desert are also expected to promote agricultural development and the development of environment-friendly economic operations in the area, local officials said.
(Xinhua News Agency July 10, 2002)