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"Sea of death" to Be Encircled by Green Belt

China will encircle the Taklimakan Desert, known as the "sea of death", in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region with a tree belt in 10 years.

The forestry authorities has planned to plant trees and grass on over 630,000 hectares of land in Xinjiang's four prefectures bordering the desert to form a shelter belt around the desert, which is about 3,000 km in circumference.

This is part of the newly launched fourth phase of the national shelter forest project carried out in north, northeast and northwest China,

"The gigantic project will alleviate damage from sandstorms to China, slow down the pace of global desertification, reduce the amount of floating dust and accumulate experience for desert control in China and the world as a whole," said Zhang Xiaoping, deputy director of the Forestry Bureau of Xinjiang.

As the second largest drifting desert in the world, the Taklimakan covers 349,400 sq km in Xinjiang, making up over 81 percent of the region's total desert area, the latest statistics from the forestry bureau revealed.

Under the influence of two wind currents, sand from the 1,800- km-long southern edge of the Taklimakan Desert gobbles up cultivated land at a pace of five to 10 meters a year.

Since the shelter forest project in north, northeast and northwest China was launched 23 years ago, people living in areas around the Taklimakan Desert have managed to prevent desert encroachment by planting diversiform-leaved poplars, narrow-leaved oleasters, rose willows and other plants that are adaptable to arid and sandy environments.

The four prefectures bordering the desert have built shelter forests on 645,300 hectares of land, bringing the total forested area to two million hectares. Hotan Prefecture, the worst-hit area on the southern edge of the desert, won a global award from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in 1995 for its efforts to prevent land deterioration and desertification.

With 795,900 sq km of desert, Xinjiang suffers direct economic losses of six billion yuan (US$723 million) annually as a result of damage caused by sandstorms, the arid climate and soil erosion.

Xinjiang will work out an overall plan for the rational use of water resources and land, and build a complete shelter forest system in accordance with the law on sand control and treatment, Zhang Xiaoping said.

"When the 10-year project is completed in 2010, the Taklimakan Desert is expected to be encircled by a solid green `Great Wall'. It will no longer be a source of disaster for the people of Xinjiang," he added.

(China Daily January 2, 2002)

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