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500,000 to Be Moved to Prevent Sandstorms

About 500,000 rural people will be pulled out from the ecologically vulnerable remote mountainous areas of Beijing and surrounding areas to help mitigate sandstorms resulting from human activity, officials say.
"Locals to be resettled will include those living in parts of Tianjin, neighboring Hebei Province and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region," the official said.
Resettlement efforts for the first batch of people from the massive exodus has almost come to an end under the program known as the "Beijing-rim sandstorm prevention project" launched in the autumn of 2000, said Wang Zhibao, deputy director of the Office for the Development of the Western Regions under the State Council, at an interview on Thursday with the New Beijing News.
"With the help of the government, most of the resettled now have a much better living conditions," he said.
Wang, the former director of the State Forestry Administration (SFA), is confident that the project can help rehabilitate ecosystems in Beijing and its surrounding areas.
"The annual sandstorms recorded in North China, the worst-hit area, have tended to decrease year after year, from 13 in 2001 to only six last year," Zhou Shengxian, SFA's top official, told media yesterday in Beijing.
A breakthrough was made last year in the replanting of forests with up to 7.2 million hectares of new trees added, according to the 2004 annual report on China's afforestation efforts.
The National Afforestation Commission (NAC) released the report yesterday on the eve of this year's annual tree-planting day.
Over the past two decades, people from all walks of life have participated in tree-planting since China set March 12 as a National Tree Planting Day in 1979 and launched the voluntary campaign in the early 1980s.
Every spring, tree-planting has become a way of life for most of Chinese, with millions of citizens involved as volunteers to help make the country greener.
Last year, nearly 550 million people planted about 2.5 billion trees throughout China. The accumulated efforts of volunteers allowed the nation to see more than 44 billion trees planted during the 1982-2004 period, NAC statistics indicate.
To date, the area with human-planted trees across China exceeds 53 million hectares, ranking the nation the leader in the world.

(China Daily March 12, 005)


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