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Sand Wall Appears in the Yellow River

Vast stretches of grassland and the galloping water of the Yellow River are some of the most beautiful scenes in Maqu County.

However, what is sad for the county is that a sand wall, dubbed the "Yellow Great Wall," is stretching between the river and the grassland, resulting from ecological deterioration in Maqu County. Desertification is now becoming increasingly severe there.


Maqu County lies in the conjunctive region of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces and is the place where the first of the Yellow River’s nine bends is located. Rivers crisscross and marshes can be found everywhere in the county. An important function of the region is conserving and supplementing water for the upper reaches of the River.


The Yellow River flows from its source in Qinghai Province into Gansu Province and makes a bend into Maqu County. After flowing for 433 kilometers throughout Maqu, the river enters Qinghai Province again with its water runoff increased by 45 percent. So, Maqu County is called the "water storage pool" for the Yellow River.


With the impact of global warming and increased activities of herding, the eco-environment has deteriorated in Maqu with concerns that the "water storage pool" for the Yellow River will become a highland desert if preventive measures are not taken immediately.


Head of the Maqu Grassland Administrative Station, Zong Wenjie, said there was no desertification in the grassland in the 1940s to 1950s and the eco-environment was well conserved. Sporadic desertification began to appear in the grassland in the 1960s to 70s and has been spreading since the 1980s. Desert-encroached areas have been increasing by 6.14 percent annually since 1990.


Standing on the big bridge spanning the Yellow River in Maqu, a meandering belt of dunes can be seen. At the same time, between the grassland and the Yellow River, the "Yellow Great Wall" bulges about 50-100 meters wide, being 10-20 meters high and 119 meters long. In further areas, 36 desertification spots of various sizes are scattered.


Statistics from the Maqu Grassland Administrative Station show that the natural grassland of the county has been deteriorating and desert encroachment getting worse in recent years. So far, out of the total 12.88 million mu (859,000 hectares) grassland of the county, 9.76 million mu (651,000 hectares) have deteriorated or become desert encroached to some extent, and 800,000 mu (53,360 hectares) of grassland has seen serious desertification, accounting for up to 6 percent of the total.


Due to the spread of desertification, the county grassland has been disappearing little by little. More than 2,500 herdsmen and 168,000 head of livestock were forced to leave their homes in the grasslands and some herdsmen have even been reduced to living in poverty.


Zong Wenjie said desertification in the grassland has not only adversely affected the local herdsmen’s life, but also posed a threat to the eco-environment of the upper reaches of the Yellow River. In 2002, soil erosion in Maqu County covered 2.26 million mu (150,700 hectares), and 500,000 tons of silt ran into the Yellow River with the water supplement volume decreasing by 15 percent.


There are 28 first-level tributaries of the Yellow River flowing in Maqu County. Among them, 11 have now run dry all year round and some have turned to be seasonal rivers. Many of the lakes and marshes in the region have dried up and the wetland has shrunk from 66,700 to 20,000 hectares.


The worsening eco-environment around the first bend of the Yellow River has attracted the attention of local government and environmental protection departments. Sand prevention and grass-planting experiments have already been carried out on the dune belt along the River.


(China.org.cn translated by Zhang Tingting, July 25, 2003)

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