China launched its largest eco-project yesterday in Xining, capital of Qinghai Province in the northwest. The 5-year project, costing 7.5 billion yuan (US$926 million), is designed to protect the eco-environment of Sanjiangyuan, the source of the country's three major rivers, the Yangtze, Yellow River and Lancang River.
The launch ceremony, officiated by Zeng Peiyan, member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and vice premier, was held during the Sanjiangyuan Protection and Construction Project Launching Conference on Wednesday in Xining, capital of northwest China's Qinghai Province.
The eco-project is the largest of its kind in terms of scale and investment, and is also one of the hallmark projects of western development.
According to the overall plan, 3.13 billion yuan (US$380 million) will be used to replenish 96.58 million mu (16 million acres) of land traditionally used for grazing. Grazing will be prohibited for five years after the replenishment works.
11.2 million yuan (US$1.38 million) has been earmarked for the protection and restoration of 1.6 million mu (266,666 acres) of wetlands, and 52.3 million yuan (US$6.46 million) to improve the 5.22-million-mu (870,000 acres) of deteriorating grasslands.
It is hoped that a sustainable balance between environment and social-economy will be achieved in Sanjiangyuan by 2020.
The project also includes infrastructure construction for local farmers and herdsmen, and other ancillary programs.
Sanjiangyuan covers an area of 360,000 sq km on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau and is home to about 590,000 people. Dubbed "China's Water Tower", the area supplies 60 billion cubic meters of water to the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers every year.
Natural factors and human activity over the years have caused the deterioration of the eco-environment in Sanjiangyuan, Song Xiuyan, governor of Qinghai Province, said yesterday.
The quality of the area's grasslands has deteriorated, rats and insects infest the place, and increased desertification worsens the soil erosion problem and adds to the decrease in the area's bio-diversity.
Shrinking glaciers and lakes, degenerating wetlands and fewer and less efficient runoffs, which are essential for replenishing ground water and headstream water sources, are also major issues.
"We can't afford to wait," said Vice Minister Du Ying of the National Development and Reform Commission, who attended the conference.
Project planners hope that their efforts will restore the eco-environment of the plateau by 2010. It is hoped that, by that time, some 1.3 billion cubic meters of source water will be replenished, soil erosion reduced by 10.8 million tons, and runoffs to the Yellow River up by 1.2 billion cubic meters.
Sanjiangyuan is the only plateau wetland eco-system in the world and serves as ecological protective screen for west China, which is why the project concerns the country's ecological security, Vice Premier Zeng said.
Yet, Zeng reiterated that the project must work in line with natural law, combining nature's ability to heal itself and man's restoration attempts.
Also present at the launch ceremony were Wang Yang, deputy executive secretary-general of the State Council; Wang Jinxiang, vice director of the Western China Development Office; Suo Lisheng, vice minister of Water Resources; and Zhang Lijun, vice president of the State Environmental Protection Administration.
The comprehensive plan for the ecological protection and construction of the region was approved at the 79th routine meeting of the State Council in late January 2005.
(China.org.cn by Guo Xiaohong September 1, 2005)