China has closed melting glaciers in northwestern Xinjiang Autonomous Region to tourists. Of late, visitors have littered, polluted and even driven across the ice that provides water to millions, the official Xinhua News Agency said on Saturday.
The glaciers in the Tianshan, or Heavenly Mountains, supply 2.3 million people in the regional capital Urumqi with drinking water but are shrinking by around 8 meters a year due to global warming and increased human activity, the report said.
Unauthorized tours, organized by travel agencies for as little as 20 yuan (US$2.5) per person, attracted over 2000 people annually who apart from driving across the ice, had damaged precious research and monitoring equipment on one of the country's most closely studied glaciers, the report added.
Glaciers covering China's Qinghai-Tibet plateau, known as the "roof of the world", are also shrinking by 7 percent a year.
As China battles to clean up its heavily polluted waterways and stave off water shortages across arid northern regions, waste and mismanagement have exacerbated the problem, leaving a bleak outlook.
The country's per-capita water resources are less than one-third of the global average, and summer glacial melt waters are crucial to millions of people downstream, who rely on them for irrigation and hydroelectric power.
(China Daily October 8, 2006)