The Taklamakan and Kumtag deserts in the Tarim Basin of Xinjiang are rapidly moving closer. Along national road 218 running between the two deserts, 197 sites have already been encroached by drifting sand.
The present ecological environment in the southern part of Xinjiang may show some local signs of improvement, however the overall picture is one of deterioration with the growth of the deserts.
The Bayingoleng Mongolia Autonomous Prefecture, located at the edge of the Taklamakan Desert, is one of the most severely affected areas. Some 45 percent of its 482,700 square kilometers (186,322 square miles) territory is now desert.
According to Chen Xinyou, deputy-chief of the Bayingoleng Mongolia Autonomous Prefecture, along the 2,000-kilometer (1,242-mile) dust line between the Taklamakan and Kumtag deserts, drift dunes are rolling forward at a speed of five to ten meters per year. The most severely affected counties of Qiemo and Ruoqiang are under threat of being swallowed by desert. The environment necessary to support the livelihoods of the herdsmen of the region is being lost.
An investigation conducted by ecological experts shows that the tendency for the two big deserts in Tarim Basin to merge is related to a massive destruction of the vegetation lying between the two deserts. The main forestry species involved is the diversiform-leaved poplar.
Records show that the water flow of the Tarim River supporting the poplar forest decreased annually from 1959 to 1983. The 320-kilometer (199-mile) river course in the lower reaches is now dry and the desert-affected area in the catchment area of the Tarim River has increased from 66 percent to 82 percent.
To prevent the two big deserts in Xinjiang from joining together completely, central government has invested 10.7 billion yuan (US$1.3 billion) in the Tarim River. This is to ensure an adequate amount of water in the lower reaches necessary to preserve the poplar forest. In addition, a new green belt is planned between the two deserts as a living shield against the sand.
(china.org.cn by Zhang Tingting, June 27, 2002)